Reeves Key Ingredient in Secondary's Newfound Efficiency

By Kyle Rowland on April 14, 2014 at 9:15a

The excuses and pleas have dried up, none being defensible. Simply put, Ohio State’s defense wasn’t at a championship level last season.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think we were ready. We weren’t good enough on defense,” head coach Urban Meyer said last week. “You can’t play defense the way we did. You have to fix it. You don’t blame people, you go fix it. And, by the way, you can’t fix it in one day – not when it’s some deep-rooted stuff.”

The Buckeyes allowed 115 points in their final three games, losing two of them, and the pass defense ranked 112th nationally. Those gory details contributed to a change in defensive philosophy.

A staff overhaul in the secondary occurred when Everett Withers took a job at James Madison. Meyer proceeded to lure Chris Ash away from Bret Bielema. All Ash has done in a matter of months is change the coverage scheme and instill confidence in those associated with the program.   

Snug coverages tend to do that after years of 10-yard cushions.

“He’s very knowledgeable of the game,” sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said when asked about Ash. “He’s very confident in what he’s teaching.”

In Saturday’s spring game, there were only two offensive touchdowns, and those came on short running plays. The two teams combined for 277 passing yards with no pass play stretching farther than 33 yards. Braxton Miller standing by as a casual observer helped the defense. But the unit’s buy-in rate has been 100 percent.

“Gareon Conley is one of the most improved players on this team and Armani Reeves, so we had two pretty good corners out there,” Meyer said. “Doran Grant had a great spring.”

Reeves is vying to lessen the sting of Bradley Roby’s departure. It’s Reeves, Conley and Eli Apple who are battling to start opposite Grant. Reeves started three games last season with mixed results, but the experience served its purpose. If not for that, Ohio State’s inexperience would be even more substantial.

Those games gave Reeves the belief he can compete in the Big Ten, which grows pass-happier with each season. He finished with 26 tackles, seven pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble. There was also a series of defensive breakdowns that led to big gains for opposing offenses, sometimes even touchdowns.

“I feel ready, I feel confident,” Reeves said. “I think that’s half the battle when you’re a corner. I’m going to play with confidence, and I know I can do this job. I’m not worried at all.”

Said Grant: “Armani had a great spring, especially in the nickel position. He was making plays. He grew up a lot, and I'm excited to see what he brings in the fall. I feel like he’s ready. He’s been working hard in the offseason. His voice is up passing the energy.”

Reeves slid over to nickelback when the Buckeyes use an extra defensive back, with Conley or Apple playing the second corner position. 

An oft-used cliché will come to life at cornerback this season – it doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who finishes. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs made it clear that Reeves, Conley and Apple would all play. The specifics are to be determined.

There’s a self-awareness factor for Reeves. He understands the murmurs from the outside questioning his worthiness. For him, though, doubters serve as motivation, which is the same instinct that kicks into overdrive when he watches film of blown coverages.

Coombs is firmly entrenched in Reeves’ corner (no pun intended). He trusts Reeves’ on-field decision making, but it’s work ethic where Coombs effuses praise.

“Anybody that’s watched him play, you never have a question about how hard he’s going to go,” Coombs said. “What a great thing for him, right? So when I walk into my meeting room and I say, ‘OK, who’s the hardest playing guy in this room?’ Day 1, that’s what I asked my guys in my unit, and they all said Armani.”

The aid and backslapping is reciprocated throughout the entire secondary. The unit acts as a ball and socket joint. If one piece is out of sync, the whole projects goes kaput. So you’ll not only witness Reeves play hard – he’ll also lend a helping hand to those competing against him.

In two years at Ohio State, Reeves viewed upperclassmen leading and offering pointers to inexperienced youth. One year ago, the scene was Roby chatting with Reeves on the practice field explaining what he’d face in a game.

“We’re all working really hard, and when you have confidence in each other that just makes a defense that much better,” Reeves said.

Better is the operative word. It’s been tossed around the defense, and pass defense in particular, this spring. With Meyer all but pointing the finger at the defense last season, describing them as the deficiency on an otherwise flawless team, the players on that side of the ball are keen on changing opinions to the positive column.  

It’s inspired motivation, according to Reeves. They remember what took place. After all, they lived the nightmare. But there’s a new coach, new philosophy and new bodies.

“Obviously everybody knows the pass defense last year had its ups and downs,” Reeves said. “This year we’ve got a fresh start and we’re going to come out hungry. The only thing that can do is motivate you to play better than you did last year.

“We’ll get there. It’s a process.” 


Comments Show All Comments

Bags5150's picture

Would be nice to see Reeves have a breakout season.  He's got a great name too!

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth~Mike Tyson

buckeyedexter's picture

I think Reeves got more criticism than he deserved last year, he was still inexperienced and a lot of things where wrong with the pass defense.  I think he has the ability and this year will be a solid DB.

+6 HS
TheBadOwl's picture

Is it just me, or did he play a lot better in the Orange Bowl than people gave him credit for? 

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

+5 HS
D-Day0043's picture

Yes he did. He actually had a pretty good game. I honestly think he is better suited to play the slot. I would rather see Apple or Connely on the outside, because they are faster, although with this new scheme he may flourish. He has the size to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and if the safeties pick up the man when he is handed off to them it all may work out nicely. We will have to see.

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+1 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

Now we have to wait till August to see if the fix is in.  Nice article, the new scheme will make the secondary better.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

LouGroza's picture

With Lattimore, Smith, Webb and Hooker coming into the already talent laden defensive backfield, the determining factor for playing time will come down to who is the best at run support. Antoine Winfield comes to mind. The great ones can play great man to man and run support like a linebacker.

D-Day0043's picture

Winfield was a freak of nature. If any of our corners play half as well as he did in run support, I would say that is a success. Winfield flat out punished people.

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+2 HS
DBell8's picture

Agreed. The talent that Urban has been bringing in at Cornerback has been tremendous. Hopefully that will now translate into success on the field. I feel that the young players we have now, such as Conley and Apple, fit Ash's new press coverage scheme perfectly.

BroJim's picture

Sounds like the D is developing. Perhaps it's time for Meyer to shift his focus back to the O.  .  .

I season my simple food with hunger

+1 HS
CGroverL's picture

The secondary had and has great athletes. Being that these kids go to Ohio State, that statement should be an automatic. I have almost assured myself that playing soft coverages was at least 50% of the problem. The two good things about this season's secondary are that they are sure tacklers and hard hitters. Opposing WR's are going to make catches (hopefully on a limited basis) and when they do, the Buckeye defenders need to make them pay the price. Too many times last year, the DL was just a bit late getting to the passer (even though the defense recorded 42 sacks which is a big number) and the QB had just enough time to hit a WR that had 2 steps on the DB.

Hopefully the DL can get a step quicker and the DB's can get a step quicker. If that happens, a lot of interceptions happen and we should see a few more QB strips like we saw happen to J.T. Barrett in the Spring Game. I've seen a lot of improvement already...even if it is just in the A to B over 4 to 6 seconds type.


"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



Furious George 27's picture

With the DL rotating in and out they should be quicker and fresher at the end of games when it matters. The big key will be the LBs in coverage, a lot of missed opportunities because a QB was able to dump off to a wide open RB or TE. I think they said that defensive schemes have been reduced significantly which hopefully means that players are quicker reacting rather than being a step behind thinking.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
HYDEYOKIDS's picture

I'm a little confused. Is Coombs still coaching the cornerbacks? I thought he was all special teams now.

OSUStu's picture

The spring game program listed him as cornerbacks coach for whatever that is worth.

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.  ~ Bruce Lee

BGSUBucksFan's picture

We'll see how Reeves does in the fall.  I'm glad to hear he is the hardest worker, but sometimes talent surpasses that.  Early on in the spring game, Reeves was in coverage on Corey Smith on a deep ball thrown pretty well by Cardale, one that should have been caught by Smith.  Reeves was in his usual form of not turning around and playing the ball, a habit that proved costly at times last season.

Zimmy07's picture

I thought Reeves did everything he could do on that first throw to Smith.  You're right he didn't turn to locate the ball but I thought if he would have done so he might have had to slightly slow down in order to turn and given up a TD.  By putting a hand up I thought he messed up Smith's vision of the ball enough to create more difficulty in making the catch - if Smith had caught it (he probably should have - but maybe lost sight of the ball from Reeve's hand) I thought Reeves could have taken him out of bounds before he scored - if Reeves turned I think Smith would have scored.

It is the plays where the receiver has to slow down and jump to make the catch where Reeves didn't turn around last year that drove me crazy.

BGSUBucksFan's picture

I agree that his active hands likely played a role in the incompletion.  I also agree that turning around may have caused him to lose a step, but that's the thing.  Playing the ball (after it's airborne of course) is the right thing to do on any throw, right or no?  He shouldn't have the step to lose if he was fast/agile enough to turn and play the ball earlier in the play (not saying he isn't, but his play seems to indicate that he thinks he isn't).  This isn't the best example because Cardale threw the ball very well.  If Cardale didn't throw that ball as well as he did, Reeves loses his opportunity at an interception by keeping his back to the play.  Reeves will always be unaware of how well the QB is going to throw it, so that should be the mindset at all times.  I'm just saying it's a habit from last year that I saw again in the spring game, and it's a habit that results in pass interference calls and missed turnover opportunities.

+1 HS
allinosu's picture

His hard work has paid off. Keep going young man

villagebuckeye's picture

Pretty much all Spring the starting the starting dbs have been Grant and Reeves at corner with Powell and Burrows at safety.  All of these guys have received praise from the coaches.  I find it interesting that Reeves is the nickel and either Apple or Conley goes to corner.  So what happens when Bell comes back?  Will Burrows go back to being just a backup?

NuttyBuckeye's picture

Those were nice stats on how the two defenses shut down the passing game in the Spring game, but I would not give all the credit to the coverage and secondary just yet.  The offensive line is thin, combined with the poor performances of the two QBs...  Will they be better than last year?  Hell yes... But I am not ready to give them too much credit for Saturday.

We should NOT be in the last half of the nation in pass defense this year...  Thanks to the talent and the new scheme we will employ.

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!