Chris Ash and His Press Coverage at Ohio State

By Ross Fulton on June 17, 2014 at 1:15p

Of all the changes new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash brought to Ohio State, the one that most excites players and fans alike is his promised use of press coverage. In Spring practice the Buckeye cornerbacks repped play after play up tight on wide receivers, demonstrating Ohio State's new commitment to pressing.

Here's just one example:

Press Coverage

Press coverage will undoubtedly be a major feature come fall. It is therefore worth exploring how and why Ash deploys press coverage.

It's All in the Technique

The first thing to recognize is that press coverage is not actually a coverage—it's a technique. Press is not only utilized with man coverage, either. It can also be deployed within zone or matchup coverages like cover 4.

Perhaps no team has combined the cover 4 with press coverage better then Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi's Michigan State defense. Like Ash, Narduzzi deploys press coverage for two reasons: limiting the offense's options and establishing an attitude.

Dictating to the Offense

As Narduzzi sees it, his defense can limit an offense's options with press corners. With a softer alignment a receiver can release straight downfield and has every route at his disposal.

But press forces a receiver to take an inside or outside release. This affects a route in several ways:

  • Forces a receiver's route to take more time;
  • Throws off a route's timing;
  • Gives clues to what route is coming by the release;
  • And forces quick throws to secondary receivers.

It also limits the type of routes used. Narduzzi tracked the pattern Big Ten opponents ran against his press corners from 2007-2011. Fades were always the most utilized route. In fact, they were often run twice as often as the the next most frequent pattern; a curl.

Press coverage does provide an offense the opportunity to throw vertically. But it is easier said then done. Such throws are low-percentage. According to Narduzzi, Big Ten offenses never completed more than two such throws in a season against his defense.

More generally, by having an identity, cover 4 press coaches such as Narduzzi and Ash know what type of routes opposing offenses will attempt against their defense. They can use practice time to consistently work with their secondary against such routes.

And by using press corners ,Narduzzi and Ash can set the rest of the defense. Most specifically, the safeties. The press technique keeps wide receivers off the cover 4 safeties. The safeties can set their feet at 10 yards and play downhill against the run. Upon run action, can place nine defenders in the box.

Setting the Table

The second reason coaches like Ash utilize press corners is far less technical – attitude. Narduzzi believes that press coverage:

  • installs an aggressive attitude across the entire defense;
  • gets into the mind of wide receivers; 
  • and players love it.

The last sentiment was certainly echoed throughout the spring by Buckeye defenders. It will likely take time until the Buckeye defense executes press coverage to the level of Narduzzi's troops. But having an identity will pay immediate dividends for Ash and his Ohio State defense. 


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Seattle Linga's picture

I love the aggressiveness Chris Ash is bringing to the Defense. I am so looking forward to the growth of our back 7 over the course of the season. 

Nice article Ross

+13 HS
osu407's picture

I also think it'll make our already great linemen look even better by giving them that extra second or two to get to the quarterback by disrupting the receivers. 

+13 HS
GVerrilli92's picture


I honestly think Urban said to himself, "Ok, I have maybe one more year with a D Line that is this stacked. I need to go get the Line coach that's best at teaching pure disruption and up field drive, paired with the secondary coach that's best at teaching the press Cover 2/4."

He got that combination. We may get beat over the top more than twice a game, but we're also going to shatter any previous pressure (sack/hurry) records. This D Line combined with press coverage on the edge with big, physical corners. The only plays an opposing offense will even be able to run are quick handoffs and fade-routes. If our safeties develop, we could even break single-season interception records because of the D-line forcing quick, off-tempo throws. 

Don't usually hop on the bandwagon this hard, but I'm on the Ash-wagon.

And we have this thing called a Braxton. It's real nice.

Ok, I'm done now.

I got a gray kitty, white kitty, tabby too, and a little orange guy who puts snakes in my shoes. Got mad MC skills, that leave ya struck, and I roll with my kitties and I'm hard as f*ck.

+4 HS
DC-town's picture

Great read, Ross-

It may take a few hiccups, but the big fast physical corners should be perfect for this coverage....10 weeks and counting

'Piss excellence' -RB

+3 HS
omahabeef1337's picture

Ross, do we have the right players to make press coverage work? I thought I had read last season that part of the problem was personnel.

Furious George 27's picture

I think the problem was the coaching and not the personnel.....  Ash is implementing it with the same players, so it would lead me to believe that Withers and Fickell were not familiarized enough to run the scheme as Ash is.

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

+3 HS
Mean Mr Mustard's picture

I think the issues with personnel had to do with safeties and LB's not being able to cover.  The Bryant injury really hurt this defense

+2 HS
Bamabucknut's picture

You said it all. Ash joins the coaching staff and the basic coverage scheme changes over night.Combine that with Urban saying more freshmen will play on defense(and not red shirting half the class....again).

Woodysghost's picture

i think it does have to do with personnel. Last year it was no secret our DB's werent playing to the level we would of liked making it almost impossible to run a press coverage effectively. In order to play press coverage you need to have the confidence in your DB's to not get burnt and stay on their man. Thankfully, its looking like we have that this upcoming year. 

Furious George 27's picture

Grant and Roby were the two fastest players on the team, they weren't greeting beat unless out of position and Roby was a 1st rd pick. So OSU most certainly had the talent and it didn't change only the philosophy did. They weren't playing well giving a 10yd cushion. It's more likely the coaches did not know how to run it, that's why Ash came in. OSU did not have an inexperienced secondary last season.

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

+3 HS
ChazBuckeye's picture

My prays after the Orange Bowl were answered when they hired Ash and all I've heard about is press coverages. Thank you Lord...
And thank you too Ross for yet another great break down.

Some people think we’re the hunted.I don’t feel that way at all.We’re the hunter.Everybody wants an angry football team.Everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team.If you’re a hunter,that usually equates to being hungry.

+8 HS
niblick's picture

if i actually see this used on the field in a real game as opossed to a 7 yard cushion my ex-wife could throw to, i may have a heart attack.

+3 HS
TMac's picture

If I don't see this used on the field n a real game as opossed to a 7 yard cushion your ex-wife could throw to, i may have a heart attack!!


ONE Not Done!

+6 HS
buckeyepastor's picture

I don't like giving up a big play at all.   But I can respect and handle big plays against OSU a lot more if we're being aggressive about it.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+3 HS
buckeyedude's picture

LMFAO! I don't want Kermit around my kids, anymore.



+1 HS
Blackbeards Delight's picture

Why Press Coverage?

Because no one liked the results of the "Cover WHO" last season.

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


+5 HS
xrox's picture

So why don't all teams use this? What are the drawbacks to running this technique? 'Cause it seems pretty awesome here.

+2 HS
osu407's picture

I think you have to have athletic corners and enough depth to keep fresh legs for a whole game. 

+4 HS
rock flag and eagle's picture

Has anyone followed Ash's career closely?  I'm confused by the numbers I see.  His secondaries have ranked all over the place.  I'm worried that his only decent years (the Wisconsin years) were because the Big Ten is not known for advanced passing attacks.

Here are how his secondaries ranked going back to 2007 (as far back as goes)

2007-SDSU- 93rd ranked pass defense

2008-SDSU- 69th

2009- Iowa State- 103rd

2010- Wisconsin- 26th

2011- Wisconsin- 4th

2012- Wisconsin-18th

2013- Arkansas- 73rd

Why was he so successful at Wisconsin, and not nearly as successful at SDSU, Arkansas or Iowa St.?  I fear it's because the B1G doesn't feature prominent passing attacks.  For instance, in 2011, when Ash had his best secondary, the best Big Ten Passing Offenses were Northwestern and MSU (38th and 41st respectively.) The B1G didn't have any top 30 passing attacks.  Not coincidentally, Wisconsin didn't play Northwestern, the B1G's best passing team, that year.  MSU put up 290 yards and 281 yards the two times they played Ash's Badgers in 2011. 

Has anyone followed his teams more closely and can explain why the stats vary so much?  Was he integral to Wisconsin's success or did he benefit from not facing elite opponents?

+4 HS
1MechEng's picture

... Or is it because of the talent level at the respective schools?!

SDSU (and Arkansas last year) probably don't get the level of defensive recruits that Wisconsin does.

+9 HS
Max Power's picture

I have to agree here. I like how Coach Ash thinks theoritically. He will have the athletes at his disposal here at OSU to implement his scheme. Pat Narduzzi is able to terrorize offenses at MSU and we reel in recruits that are ranked higher than Spartys recruits (Dennard is a diamond in the rough find). Point is, with the right players I cannot see why press coverage will not work out for him at OSU. He will have the best athletes and be at the best program of his career. If its gonna work for him, this is the place.

time will tell if he was the right hire. One things for certain, it will be an improvement from last year!

+6 HS
Horvath22's picture

Good question, RFE. My only answer would be that I think, hope that Urban Meyer knows what he is doing in hiring Chris Ash. But, he also hired Withers, and how did that work out?

LouBuck35's picture

Without doing any research whatsoever, is it because the skillset of the players at Wisconsin is at a higher level than SDSU, Iowa State or Arkansas?  You can utilize any coverage/technique combination you want, but if your players aren't up to task, you probably are not apt to perform high nationally.

I want a fall Saturday in Ohio Stadium..

+1 HS
rock flag and eagle's picture

Perhaps he was constantly walking into situations where he was replacing terrible coaches and the players weren't coached up on basics and fundamentals (things all players should have regardless of star rankings.)

Here's another thought.  Wisconsin had a lot of consistency on defense prior to Ash's arrival.  Dave Doeren was co-DC or DC from 2006-2010.  The Wisky defense during that time was always decent, if not spectacular.  They had top 40 defenses nationally each year.  Ash wasn't coming into a chaotic situation trying to "fix" things.  He just needed to keep the steady improvement going.  Whereas, at Arkansas, he was coming in right after John L. Smith.  I wouldn't want to coach after him.  Ash was trying to fix the nation's 116th ranked pass defense.  While he had similar talent to Wisconsin (recruit ranking wise) he yielded a below average pass defense (73rd.)  But, that's an improvement from 116th.  The problem, again, is that Ash is walking into a poorly coached OSU unit and has to "fix" the problem.  He didn't work wonders at Arkansas, though he did show improvement.  Maybe OSU can expect a similar improvement from last year's 112th ranked pass D.

+3 HS

RF&E, I understand your concern and it's perfectly warranted, but I don't think Ash has ever had the level of talent or depth he has at OSU. I doubt he's ever had a Cam Burrows, Doran Grant or Vonn Bell to work with. I don't get the impression the man is incompetent and even if he only improves our pass D ranking by 10 or 15 spots that's still 10 or 15 spots better than last year (which would've been enough to at least beat Sparty). I also don't think you can discount any high defensive ranking under his watch nor can you 100% blame him for any poor defensive showings. He's not the one out there defending receivers, his players are.

Arkansas' defense did improve last year as the season went on. Ash is great at getting the most out of his players which is one of the main reasons Meyer hired him. What's he going to get out of our guys? I can't see us moving from 112th to No. 1 in one season, but they're going to be better just because he knows what he's doing.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

+2 HS
GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

Excellent points, I will add that I think our defense knew how bad they were at times, at least in coverage. many things factor in, including having confidence in your scheme. I feel like our defense will play hungrier than before with something to prove. Sometimes a coaching shakeup and scheme change lights a fire under guys asses. I'm pretty excited to see what happens. I think Ash will get if figured out, and I would anticipate that we get better every week which is huge.

Last year we played a bend don't break defense that IMO only teams with inferior talent use to play the odds. Primarily your wide open spread teams like what you see in the BigXII.  We have elite talent on defense, but the scheme was soft and our players are not. No one who plays corner wants to play 10 yards off unless they are sitting on a lead and they know passes are coming. Most DB's (elite competitors) want to prove to themselves, coaches and teammates that they are man for man better than the WR lined up across from them. I like to think we have those types of kids in our secondary, so IMO Ash and his scheme will fit perfectly in Columbus.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

+2 HS
BuckeyeSouth's picture

Your facts, sir, are getting in the way of my opinion that the Buckeye D will be much better under Ash.  Please stop it.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

+3 HS
Crimson's picture

I've seen this posted before, as well as the previous year to when Ash came in.  It basically says that Ash is much better than whoever was there before him.  Also, rumors out of Arkansas were that the players were soft and didn't want to tackle.

otrain2416's picture

Screens: a word I will not fear nearly as much under this new press coverage.

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

+4 HS
Max Power's picture

If there was one change defensively, press coverage gets my vote. Nothing irritated me more than watching our CBs, who were regularly faster and more athletic than the oppossing WRs, give a 10 yard cushion. As far off the line as we used to play it would have been illegal to make contact with the receivers. Not to mention that we were essentially backing off in run support as well. Glad to see Coach Ash utilizing the strength and athleticism, which is abundant, of our cornerbacks. Get up there and knock those receivers off their routes! Now our guys will dictate where the receivers will go, or at least will make it tougher on them to go where they please.
I also believe it will be easier to recruit guys in the secondary with this scheme. We already have quite the pedigree when it comes to the secondary. I would have to assume that DBs would prefer to use their athleticism to their advantage and play in a more aggressive style. Coach Ash hasnt coached a down at OSU yet and is already winning over a ton of fans

+3 HS
Silver Bullet 10's picture

The real question is..... Why not?

Hovenaut's picture

I've repressed a good portion of the 90's. But the Silver Bullets from the mid to late 90's under Fred Pagac were just nasty.

Need the aggressiveness, need a unit that won't be afraid to make their mistakes, a unit that acts together without thinking.

4-3 press coverage? Yes, please. It's not going to come overnight, but I'm hoping by late season we can be confident in Ohio State with or without the ball.

+3 HS
BierStube's picture

If we can anywhere near these results, I will be happy!


"No matter where you go, there you are." B. Banzai

+2 HS
mrspray's picture

I didn't initially see the beginning of that clip, and wasn't sure who was on offense/defense until it started again...

In case you're curious, it's Mr. Spray

Crimson's picture

Why are the WR and the DB on the wrong sides of the LOS?

+2 HS
BierStube's picture

You can probably get a good answer from this guy ..


"No matter where you go, there you are." B. Banzai

+1 HS
HouseHarleyBuilt's picture

He still outplayed the guy from Michigan in two different Super Bowls.

Treat every opponent as if they are capable of beating you, because guess what? They are.

+5 HS
MauricXe's picture

heh I didn't realize QBs played defense....much less against the same D

HouseHarleyBuilt's picture

Give credit where credit is due. Plus, I deserve the right to make fun of any past/present/future skunkweasel. Its my birth right as a Buckeye.

Treat every opponent as if they are capable of beating you, because guess what? They are.

+1 HS
KINGBUCKEYE419's picture

Another great thing about press coverage other than giving the D-Line that extra second to rush the quarterback is our offense gets to practice against it every week so our wide receivers will be more comfortable playing against it and our quarterbacks will have more practice throwing into tight coverage. It's an all around win for the team in that regard.       

+3 HS
e135800's picture

Where does Nick Conner fit into this type of scheme?



GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

With about 14 solo tackles, 2 sacks, a pick 6..... and a partridge in a pear tree.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

+3 HS
hetuck's picture

Now if you'll tell me Ash is teaching the DBs to look back for the ball and I'll never have to hear Herbstreit say, "They'll call it every time" again, I'll be a happy fan. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+3 HS
SLVRBLLTS's picture

Press coverage only works when the DB is better than the WR. It also hurts the run game because when a DB is pressing it's easier to get blocked and it makes them slower to pursuit.

Fortunately, I see our DBs as being better than 90% of the WRs we'll play this season.

"Because we couldn't go for three"

+2 HS
Mean Mr Mustard's picture

The two worst things about last year's defense: 1) Blown Coverages 2) Freebies given out with the 7-10 yard cushion

Ash does not have a complex scheme.  The players just execute the scheme very well; because of that, the ridiculous amount of blown coverages should be gone.  Obviously, from reading the article, you can see that the freebies will be gone.




+1 HS
GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

If people thought we had a great defensive line last year, wait until we start pressing. More Sacks, Less mental snafu's at LB in coverage. I can't wait!  This will take pressure off of everyone, the question is do we have a pair of physically imposing corners who are long and can recover? I'm excited to find out.  I get anxiety just thinking about Benett, Bosa, Washington, and Spence getting after confused and off timed QB play. We have the athletes, we almost always do. I think the days of being embarrassed by our weak defense are over with starting in late August.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

bassplayer7770's picture

As for the physically imposing corners, I think we'll be okay.  It seemed to me that Eli Apple was playing a very physical game in the Spring.

dmurder's picture

Was Chris Ash at Iowa State the same time as Tom Herman?

"We have always had the best damn band in the land, now we have the best damn team in the land"- Jim Tressel 1-03-03

Crimson's picture

I believe (maybe in the Ash hiring article) that they did know each other.  At the least, Herman would know where to get an honest assessment from.

Fugelere's picture

I'm gonna play devil's advocate for a moment here.

I know Coach Urban has wanted to run cover 4 since he arrived here.  However the coaching staff abandoned it midway through their first season because of mental lapses and blown assignments.  

Question #1, other than the depth of our CBs, what are the differences between the cover 4 we originally attempted in the 2012 season and Ash's version?

Question #2, why is Ash's particular version of the cover 4 going to succeed where the other failed?

MauricXe's picture

you may be confusing press coverage with cover 4. press coverage is a is not an actual coverage. it can be used in man or in zone coverage i.e. cover 4.

last year, the buckeyes sometimes played cover 4 without pressing the wide receivers.

Fugelere's picture

No, I understand that distinction.  What I'm saying is that our defense had other problems besides the corners playing off.  Misses assignments, piss poor tackling and such.

 While I think it's great that we're playing press man our defense did have trouble executing this scheme (to be fair they had a hard time executing multiple schemes, and maybe that was part of the problem) in the past.

What I'm asking is what are the differences between this version of cover 4 and the other that will make it work.  Especially have we simplified the reads for our safeties and LBs who looked lost at times last year?

Shangheyed's picture

Is there ANY famous defense that uses soft coverage?  I can't think of one... Scheme killed us last year.

+1 HS
FROMTHE18's picture

Press coverage: a blitz's best friend.

buckeyedude's picture

~~ Like Ash, Narduzzi deploys press coverage for two reasons: limiting the offense's options and establishing an attitude.

I'm no expert, but I personally think that giving the opposing WRs a 7-8 yd cushion makes the DBs lazy. The new "attitude" is exactly what the OSU Silver Bullets have needed. I remember the defenses of the 90s and early 2000s as well.



+2 HS
Jimmy Smits's picture

Totally agree, here's to the death of the screen pass!  May need to roll coverage on some of the better wideouts but looking forward to it making pass rush better.

I like nachos

BuckeyeJAK's picture

An attacking secondary coupled with what should be the best D -line in the country..........Fear the nut !!!!!!!!!!  (buckeye that is).

Mark May is a mental midget