After spending a season as Kerry Coombs’ proverbial punching bag and denying Michigan as the Wolverines were on the doorstep of an historic upset, it’s safe to say Tyvis Powell has arrived. The underclassmen safety locked down his starting spot in the spring and became a key figure in the secondary’s improvements.
His interception of Devin Gardner is what currently defines him. But Powell’s hoping to change that. He made 48 tackles as a redshirt freshman last season, making him the fifth-leading returning tackler. All those days spent with Coombs in his ear set Powell on a trajectory to be a success story.
The three-star recruit came to Ohio State with expectations for himself and from fans. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Powell possesses size, athleticism and speed that makes him a capable figure in the secondary. He’s also shown the ability to be a run stopper.
In the spring, Powell was paired with new safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash for the first time. Ash is tasked with righting the Buckeyes’ secondary, which was the biggest roadblock in playing for a national championship, not Michigan State. It’s a mostly youthful group, but the talent has given way to confidence.
“I had a lot of improvement from Day 1,” Powell said after the spring game. “I think I had a drastic improvement in my game and in my leadership. That’s basically what it was really about, me becoming a leader. I feel like I was able to go out there and motivate my team.”
Powell has an infectious personality that makes him a popular locker room figure. He oozes confidence but doesn’t go overboard with his swagger. Ohio State’s secondary could have entered the spring with a morose outlook. Instead they embraced a new coach, a new style and a new attitude.
Part of the fresh approach is ridding one’s self of complacency. Despite Powell’s status as a starter, he views the offseason as a period for growth and further establishing himself as a first-team player.
“Nothing is guaranteed. That’s not going to stop me from working hard this offseason,” Powell said. “With people coming in and stuff like that, nothing is guaranteed. All it does is motivate me. I don’t want to let [Urban Meyer] down. I want that to be a true thing.”
The people Powell referenced would be incoming freshmen safeties Erick Smith and Malik Hooker and cornerbacks Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore. They, along with Powell, Vonn Bell, Cam Burrows, Doran Grant, Armani Reeves, Eli Apple and Gareon Conley, are trying to squash the loss of Bradley Roby, Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett and Pitt Brown.
Spring drills and the annual Scarlet and Gray game played host to a more aggressive pass defense. The quarterbacks were unable to get into a rhythm, as the defensive backfield swatted away passes and made running routes difficult. Suddenly, the All-American and all-conference losses didn’t seem so severe.
“I knew we would lose a lot of key players after the season, but after going through spring practice, I’m confident we can go out and compete at the highest level with any team,” Powell said. “We’ve got to get better. But I feel like we’re on our way back to being the Silver Bullets everybody once knew.”
Schematic changes have been the most significant visible difference compared to 2013. Meyer believes the pace is quicker and there’s more aggressiveness. Every member of the secondary would agree. The unit is unwavering in altering its perception.
It’s not a new development. But last season didn’t allow them to get ahead of the curve. Aggression wasn’t an option with cushions given to receivers. Now, they can regain headlines for the right reasons.
Powell wants to be at the forefront, not because he’s camera hungry but because in his third year he believes he can offer guidance to inexperienced players. The grand audition came at the spring game.
“When something needed to be said, I was just out there talking and they took it and ran with it,” Powell said. “It was kind of a natural feeling for me. But I know that at times it was stuff that needed to be said, and I was able to come through and say the right things and go out there and make plays.”
Powell’s voice doesn’t reach Coombs decibel levels, but his message is heard and received. Come fall, a legion of fans will find out if the secondary heeded coaches advice to improve a dreadful unit.