Under the Guidance of Chris Ash, Ohio State's Secondary is in Full Bloom

By Kyle Rowland on May 22, 2014 at 8:30a

Eli Apple and Gareon Conley are roommates. They’ve developed into close friends in their first year at Ohio State, and if the spring was any indication, they’ll patrol the defensive backfield with one another come fall.

“It’s great because competition always brings the best out of everybody,” Apple said. “Me and Gareon are always pushing each other to get better every day. Whoever the best guy is needs to be ready. Everybody has to be ready.”

Few positions on the team received as much attention in the spring as the secondary. There’s a new safeties coach – someone with a track record at producing high-end pass defenses – a new philosophy, position battles and memories of last season. Those memories could be deemed nightmares.

Ohio State ranked 112th in pass defense and gave up country acres to opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers. Bradley Roby, Doran Grant and Co. were more than capable, but scheme issues appeared to be the Buckeyes’ undoing.

Enter Chris Ash. He did his finest work at Wisconsin, and earned unsolicited praise from Tom Herman prior to the 2013 season. Herman said Ash outcoached him in a game Ohio State won in overtime, preserving an undefeated season.

“He was very simple. He did not call one blitz on first or second down,” Herman said. “He called one front and one coverage. Within that front and coverage, he could adjust to any formation or motion we gave him. And he had his kids extremely well coached up on recognition of plays and alignments. You have to throw it over their heads, and our guys have to make plays if they are going to commit both safeties to the run the way that they did.”

The Buckeyes hope they hear more opposing offensive coordinators gripe about Ash’s preparedness and defensive sets. An aggressive style was evident early in the spring and the press coverage Ash instituted was what Meyer – and fans – were searching for, safeties and cornerbacks bumping receivers and being an annoyance.  

The current state of college football is heavy on offense. Fans and TV executives want to see excitement, which translate into points. The sport’s identity has evolved into dual-threat quarterbacks who can dazzle. But Ohio State is still intent on letting its defense be the face of the program.

“It’s not going to matter if we don’t play with great effort,” Ash said. “It all starts with the effort and then once we get the effort where we want it to be, we’ll worry about the details of what we’re doing – our alignments, footwork, hands, eyes. Those things will come in time.”

An adjustment period will still exist in fall camp, though many kinks were unknotted in the spring. The biggest adaptation is a change in position names and responsibilities. It’s like wading through knee-high muck and coming to treasure as the murky water recedes. Ohio State is nearing that point.

Grant is the headliner in the secondary. But Apple and Conley aren’t far behind. The redshirt freshmen received sizable attention in March and April as their talent shined bright. The duo is potential shutdown corners, meshing well with Ash and Kerry Coombs’ instructions.

In an unexpected year away from game action, Apple admitted he matured mentally, an aspect that contributed to his falling behind and ultimately redshirting. But after a year of practice, observing and conversations with coaches, Apple believes he’s primed to deliver in 2014.

“Doran and Coach Coombs really helped me with my mental game,” Apple said. “Last year, I was thinking too much and just making too many mental mistakes. This year, I’m really focused on the mental side of the ball.”

Anxiety in the spring existed in the form of newness. Relearning fundamentals, schemes and a culture. Over time, players will memorize their role and retain all the nuances associated with it. Ash has reiterated the importance of playing with a high football IQ.

“The way you get great effort and minimize mental errors is simplicity. Be simple with your approach and do what you do extremely well, and then you can branch off from there,” he said. “We’ve got to be great teachers. We’re not going to be a defense that I call a ‘guru defense’ or a ‘junk defense.’ We’re going to be executors about what we’re doing. It’s going to be about the effort and the fundamentals and consistency.”

Consistency is what’s plagued the Buckeyes in recent years. There’s been little semblance of steadiness. Playing smart with dependability goes a long way toward winning. Ash hammered home the point of having to execute on a regular basis. If there’s a void, breakdowns occur which leads to opposing fans cheering in the northeast corner of Ohio Stadium.

Said Ash: “Really, it’s all about how hard we play and how consistent we are in doing it.”


Comments Show All Comments

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

A decent secondary would go a long way this season.

Read my entire screen name....

Buckeye06's picture

Not one mention of our presumed starter opposite Grant next year?  I thought Reeves was penciled in there at the least

Buckeye4life23's picture

I think we will see Reeves start there to begin the season, and Apple may end the season as the starter opposite Grant.

Muck Fichigan that is all.

niblick's picture

after watching our pass defense the last 3 years, who in their right mind would pencil anyone in as a starter right now?

+5 HS
buckeyeotaku's picture

just speculation but the starter tag might not mean much at corner, if there are four guys who can execute i think four guys will get reps.

We don't give a damn for the whole state of Bichigan

+2 HS
d5k's picture

And on passing downs we will bring in a 3rd corner.

Buckeye06's picture

I respect all the comments, but I figured he should at least be mentioned in the article

+1 HS
buckeyeotaku's picture

i wasn't trying to harp on Reeves, i just like that the corners are taking to the new defensive attitude so well, and it sounds like they all put a lot of work into spring practice so if that translates on the field for all the young guys they could split reps fairly evenly and keep guys fresh.

We don't give a damn for the whole state of Bichigan

Squirrel Master's picture

Grant was mentioned, but briefly. I think this article is more about the things that are changing for the good. Hence why Grant was barely mentioned and Reeves wasn't even talked about once.

It will be Grant starting at one spot. Conley and Apple I think take over Reeves and either one starts the very first game. I wouldn't be surprised as well if Webb was apart of the two deep somehow. and this is not a knock on Reeves.


I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
osubuck57's picture

Would love for Apple or Conley to seize a CB position opposite Grant. No knock on Reeves. We just need to put the best out on the field, regardless of class. And we add Lattimore and Smith to the secondary this summer...EWEEE!!


+3 HS
Gametime's picture

Don't sleep on Dame Webb! From a technique standpoint he's locked up some of the best prospects playing now! (And some of his current and future teammates.)

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

+1 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

Exactly!  When I saw Webb's 40 time (4.7) I thought "he's not fast enough to play corner at OSU", but then I watched his highlights and other footage.  This young man has skills, he won't need to worry much about  WRs getting past him.

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

osubuck57's picture

I almost did forget about D.Webb. Thanks for looking out Gametime!!


Buckeye4life23's picture

I cannot wait to see Apple and Conley in action.  They are going to be stars!

Muck Fichigan that is all.

kgratz's picture

The secondary is the key to our defense this year.  If we can actually cover their recievers this year it will allow our defensive line to dominate and get to the quarterback.  I wholeheatedly trust our DLine and and I think I trust our LBs, if our secondary can get it together I think we really see the Silver Bullets back.

How Firm Thy Friendship

buckeyeotaku's picture

i know the spring game doesn't mean much because everybody was split up and not all the starters played, but watching it in person was great! there was a reason that the quarterbacks looked bad, they're both young and there were no gimme passes for them to make to bail them out.

We don't give a damn for the whole state of Bichigan

buckeyeradar's picture

Ash may have starters in mind but I think he'll be moving fresh players in and out because of all the talent he has available.  Fresh and angry men.  Silver Bullets flying everywhere.

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

+2 HS
buckeyeotaku's picture

100% agree the coaches seem to like Grant Reeves Apple and Conley no reason to tire out your players and hamper the development of the underclassman if they're ready for meaningful reps.

We don't give a damn for the whole state of Bichigan

Hovenaut's picture

Very optimistic the secondary will be making big differences in a positive manner this fall.

Unit personnel (players and coaches alike) seem to be all in - I cannot wait.

+1 HS
blocko330's picture

As long as we don't line up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage we'll be just fine - An improved pass defense will absolutely balance the lack of experience on the O-line and RB (though I'm confident EZE is going to be a beast).

Are the days going backwards?! is it August yet?!  geeeez

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

- TruthTeller

Zimmy07's picture

Is there any word on Vonn Bell?  I think it's been about 6 weeks since the MCL sprain & someone mentioned that it was a 6 week recovery, which I thought was pretty quick.

Squirrel Master's picture

You probably won't hear much because they are all on break right now and I wouldn't be surprised if we don't hear anything till the start of training camp. I'm confident he will be fine though.


I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
BuckeyeJ's picture

I was gonna ask about Bell also

And I just hope Grant is the right choice. It may have been our schemes last year, but I thought he really got outplayed 

-1 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

I thought Doran Grant played better than Roby did for the year....

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

+4 HS
HotSauceCommittee's picture

I agree. Doran played better than Roby most games.

Due to the scheme (hopefully), Doran gave up his fair share of catches, but he didnt give up too many big plays.

+1 HS
allinosu's picture

Let us see if Reeves puts in the effort and improves before we write him off. I'm not sure he ever knew what his assignment was last year. He always looked confused before the snap.

+1 HS
BuckeyeOfTheTiger's picture

Obviously this is an ancillary concern, and I am way more interested in what this new defense will mean for the buckeyes in terms of winning games in the fall, but is there any concern that playing a simplified defense would decrease the NFL stock of our defensive players?


Jack Fu's picture

I'm not getting my hopes up until I see it.

bignut2017's picture

I hope that the starter opposite grant week one is Eli Apple. I feel this way because he has a great ball skills. I think that he matches up bett er on faster corners. I hope that reeves is in the nickel and is matched up against the slot receiver. I thought he played well in that role last year. And did we move tyvis Powell over to safety because I thought that he had talent

"Championships aren't won on Saturdays, they're won on Tuesdays in August" Kerry Coombs

-1 HS
Athens BuckCat's picture

I love watching great secondary play, so these past three seasons have been rough, but I have high hopes for this year and can't wait to see what Coach Ash has implemented and to see our young talent in action. Man this off season needs to end

BroJim's picture

Well, it can't get much worse than last year so I have to be optimistic.

I season my simple food with hunger

Shangheyed's picture

The simplicity might even allow a LB to be capable of calling the plays as well... this is a year too late...sadly.

Spider1944's picture

BUCKEYERADAR said in regards to secondary: "I think he'll (Ash) be moving fresh players in and out because of all the talent he has available".

Coach Speak: "We need competition at every position. It brings out the best in everybody." Really, then why does it stop when the season starts? If they were not going to play two deep in the secondary last year when will they. I'm sorry, but with that cupcake schedule last year, IMHO, every defensive 2 and some 3's should have had meaningful reps.

I am still waiting to hear the real story on Mike Mitchell. He could not get on the field with the linebackers he watched playing in front of him???

"There are 3 things that can happen and 2 of them are bad" - the Curse of Woody Hayes