College Football Guru Phil Steele Isn't Concerned About Ohio State's Pass Defense

By Patrick Maks on July 17, 2014 at 2:00p

When it comes to college football, Phil Steele is an oracle and an encyclopedia brimming with facts and figures. 

He’s pegged Ohio State as the No. 6 team in the nation in his preseason projected preseason Associated Press top 25 poll and his annual season preview ranks them at No. 3.

So when he says Ohio State’s pass defense will be better next season, he means it.

“Frankly in my mind, despite the fact they have just one returning starter on (the pass) defense, they’ve got guys that have started games back there, they’ve got a lot of talent back there,” Steele told Eleven Warriors in a recent interview.

“They’ve got a little bit new of a defensive system bringing in (co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach) Chris Ash from Arkansas, will run a little bit more press.

“I think the secondary will be one of the more improved secondaries in the country and that’s why I didn’t put it on my question mark list, even though they were poor last year and lost three starters.”  

The Buckeyes, which lost Bradley Roby, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, finished 112th nationally in pass defense in 2013 and surrendered nearly 700 yards through the air in devastating, back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson. 

On the cusp of a national title berth, the unit was Ohio State’s undoing after a 24-game winning streak under the direction of coach Urban Meyer.

“We hit a speed bump,” he said while addressing a crowd of boosters in March.

But truth be told, the pass defense was an inherent defect the Buckeyes covered up last season. They medicated it with a talented defensive line that stifled the run and an explosive offense that simply kept most games out of reach. 

Truth also be told, the talent was there, especially in former defensive backs Roby, Bryant and Barnett.

Steele said Ohio State should’ve been better.

“I think they underachieved a little bit,” he said.  

“I think you go back to Ohio State’s secondary last year, you had a player like Bradley Roby coming back and you just assumed Ohio State will have one of the top secondaries in the country.

“Frankly, I think Roby had his mind a little bit on the NFL, I don’t think we saw Bradley Roby at his best last year in a lot of games. That was a big factor.”

Plus, faced with the option of either running the ball against the likes of Noah Spence, Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett or going over top of them, teams trended toward attacking the Buckeyes through the air despite what, on paper, was supposed to be a strength too.

“I’ll go back to (Kansas State coach) Bill Snyder. He had a great preseason comment prior to last year. His entire offensive line was back and they had just had a phenomenal season. I said, so coach, that’s a strength? He goes, ‘You know what, as long as the players don’t think they’ve achieved everything, as long as they continue to work, we’ll have a good offensive line.' But it was still a question mark in his head.”

The Buckeyes floundered last year to the point where Meyer vowed an offseason "overhaul" in addition to hiring Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson to help remedy the problem. 

"When people come to the games now and what do they talk about? Ohio State's offense," sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said after the team's Spring Game in April.

"Back in the day, it was about the defense. So that's what we're trying to get theme to go back to.

"Let's go to the game to see their defense, not the offense.”

They've got a little more than a month to see if that'll actually work. 


Comments Show All Comments

logamaniac's picture

eh insinuating the hiring of LJ was part of the overhaul is kind of BS.  he was hired as a replacement to an exiting Vrabel, and had MV not accepted that job with the texans we wouldn't have taken on LJ.  Not to mention the DL wasn't something that needed overhauling either regardless of the coach.

+5 HS
buckeyecityterror's picture


If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

-4 HS
bleedscarlet's picture

Why do you say that?

Slingin' swag since 1970


buckeyecityterror's picture

Sorry guys.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

-4 HS
bleedscarlet's picture

If that's right, that's a helluva good call... would have never thought of that.. well done sir

Slingin' swag since 1970


-5 HS
cdub4's picture

Isn't Stan Drayton still on staff? Where is this rule in writing LOL?

+6 HS
lwitters's picture

That rule sounds pretty illegal.  Racial quotas tend to be frowned upon (see, e.g., Regents of the University of California v. Bakke).

+1 HS
logamaniac's picture

are you sure you arent confusing the "Rooney rule" from the NFL?  that rule stipulates that in all coaching interviews you must interview at least one african-american candidate.  I havent heard of any such thing in college and when i just tried to google it i came back with nothing either.

+2 HS
whiskeyjuice's picture

What does race have to do with anything? Does it occur to anybody that maybe he was hired because he is a GREAT COACH and GREAT RECRUITER?!? He has an amazing track record with Penn State.

"Championships are not won on Saturdays in November. Championships are won on Tuesdays in August." -- Kerry Combs

+8 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

that is a laughable and baseless comment.  seriously?  Quite sure Meyer wasn't reading up on equal opportunity employment when he lost those two games last year.  This is about fixing the D and winning games.  period.

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
BuckeyeQ6's picture

Stan Drayton?...

<edit> Sorry, you all beat me to it

theopulas's picture

i think UM will hire the best available coach, and if that means making changes then so be it...i think we hire these coaches regardless and make room by letting some others know that they should take other jobs....maybe Johnson was offered the Houston job but wanted to stay in college and Vrabel wanted to go....either way.....if available, UM was going after them.....


Furious George 27's picture

Sure, but I think the DL gets better under LJ. MV is a good coach, but LJ has the track record of being a great coach rotating players in games.

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

+6 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

Maybe MV wasn't that good of a coach.  He was a great recruiter and a very close friend of LF but there was a problem in the coaches room and on the field.  LF is still here.  MV will always be a great and well loved buckeye.  UM makes the final decisions but when Mike left things settled down.  We haven't played a down since he's (MV) gone and the country thinks we have a better defense already.  I wish it could have been different because Mike was one of my favorite players.  Maybe he'll do better coaching pros and not having to coach and defend a close friend at the same time.  

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

-3 HS
logamaniac's picture

im assuming you saw that DL under MV?  what areas specifically do you see them improving on? 

+2 HS
Patrick Maks's picture

Wasn't trying to insinuate that, but see why it comes across like that. Needed to mention his hire. 

logamaniac's picture

ha and i didnt mean to come across as brash as i seem to have either, sorry about that :(

-1 HS
Boxley's picture

But, those were both excellent D hires. Regardless as to what how they came about.

Fresh faces on the coaching staff might help quite a bit. The secondary...., well how could it be worse?

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

+4 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Just ready to see that back seven get after it, without hesitation. I'm sure there will be some early mistakes, but down the stretch I hope to see an aggressive, attacking defense that knows it exactly what it needs to do.

+7 HS
fear_the_nut70's picture

I remember the Roby tweet about OSU not using corners correctly.  Reminds me of the way TB misused Revis.  I know hindsight is 20-20 and all, but I would have like to have seen Roby be used as a lockdown on one side of the field and compensate for weaknesses elsewhere.  Dude was a first round NFL pick after all.  Just talking out of my....

+3 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

he was a lock down for abbracadabraderis and made him look like the white Randy Moss.

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+3 HS
Shangheyed's picture

That was a terrible game, and helped that dude get paid on draft day... Was it over 200 yrds or something around there... but scheme has as much to do with that as anything else...

This years DBs will benefit from one of the BEST pass Rushes in CF... and a scheme that tightens up the corners will help.  I am not as positive as Steele on this, but feel there should be vast improvement, maybe 50-70 places on over-all team Defense.

Is there a winning program that plays off the ball?   I can't think of one.... all that come to mind are dominating Defenses with at least one lockdown bump and run corner, as others have mentioned locking down one side of the field.

How do you like the JING?  I used to live there 6 yrs in the 90s.

BeijingBucks's picture

The Jing is real... hot.  Work mostly in SH though.  also hot.  If you're ever back this way just say the word, I'm buyin.  I only seem to run into lame Michigan Tshirt wearing apologists.  I've even stopped making fun of them as they have no fight left

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

Meet you in the HAI!  I sing and play the Blues at the Cotton Club every Tuesday and Sat nites... come by for a song mate, drinks on me!  OH!!

Earle's picture

Steele either has an awful lot of confidence in Ash, or else he didn't watch the Buckeyes play much last year.  I'm cautiously optimistic that the pass defense will take a big step forward this year, but there will be some growing pains early on.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Shangheyed's picture


Basically, I can't imagine it getting worse, so indeed must get better... The game plan last year was shockingly bad, give someone a 7-10 yrd cushing EVERY PLAY... they would be crazy not to take advantage.   The change in scheme alone should improve the Silver Bullets... as well some very athletic and speed players at every position.  Just can't get worse I don't think that is remotely possible.

Thanks for keeping it Real Earle!

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Phil Steele certainly deserves some honorary buckeye helmet stickers, that's for sure. 

+5 HS
bigDbuck's picture

I can relate to what Powell is talking about. Back in the Tressel days I absolutely loved watching the dominance the D played with. Get a team in 3rd and long and cause hell on the field! I see it with a few teams from down south, LSU and Bama. It looks like they are playing with 13 guys! I think OSU has the talent to do so, but hopefully coach Ash new philosophy of playing fast will translate into silver bullets of 2000's!

+3 HS
ramiy63's picture

Our DBs didn't do a bad job of actually "covering" receivers (staying with them while they ran their routes). But they sure the heck didn't make any plays on the ball (not only didn't they "break up" many passes, but most of the time they didn't even get their head around to see the ball coming and that is taught in Jr. High Football). However, another problem we've had the last 2-3 years is the defensive play-calling, especially when it came to matching coverage with what the D-line and LBs were doing (blitz, no blitz, LB drops, etc.). And that is 100% the fault of the Defensive Coordinator. Hopefully this year at least that will improve.

+1 HS
logamaniac's picture

a lot of times they were used more as a 5-7 yard "fence" and when that happens you run the risk of them hopping the fence in addition to all the first downs you give up and drives you elongate

BeijingBucks's picture

sammy watkins sees your fence as keeping the innocents off his runway

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

Qujo's picture

I am with Steele... I think we have an offense that will score points, even with a young O line. Braxton is very mobile so he will do his share of keeping drives alive if the O line breaks down. Throw in Dunn, EZEKIEL, Dontre, Devin Smith, Huerman (sp) and a more wide open offense with El Guapo gone, and I think our offense will put up enough points even against toughest opponents. If our D secondary is 50% better than last year we will be stellar defensively. I think we lost a lot of talent in the secondary, but what difference is talent if it's always out of position (thanks Withers and Coombs). So with Ash you get maybe equally talented albeit inexperienced secondary but if they are generally in the right position to make a play they will ultimately give up fewer completions and yards than last year. I think our D makes significant strides (probably not top 5-10 strides) but much more efficient allowing our offense to have the ball more and score points. We will be very good next year. 

Our arch rivals.... 11 National Championships, 10 before 1949 - eight of eleven shared. Trying to respect them... trying.... Ugh!

THEOSUfan's picture

Phil Steele: "They under-achieved a little bit."

In other news: Hamas dislikes the state of Israel a little bit.

+4 HS
Fatpants's picture

I think the biggest problem with the pass defense moved on to James Madison. 

112th in the nation with the talent we had points directly to coaching. Be it mismatched schemes from the front to the back or differing of philosophies amongst co-defensive coordinators, something was seriously amiss. 

I can't blame Fickell. Dude played in the Rose Bowl with a torn pec. None of us Internet warriors can lay claim to anything so badass.

I'm just a poo gas huffin' toilet snorkeler at heart....

+4 HS
Scarlet_Buckeye's picture

I said this EXACT same thing a MONTH ago.  Damn... I should be making Phil Steele money!

SilverBullet-98's picture

I really hated the defensive philosphy last year and before.

Can you imagine being a DL men and going 100% every down w/o rotating fresh DL in and busting your B???s to get it to 3rd and 6 stopping 2 running plays.

Only to waatch the apathetic approach of the DB's and their 10 yard give away for a first down.

Oh man, all the way down the feild over and over again all year? Had to be hard to be a DL last year.

I expect OSU's DL to look like Pro Bowlers this year with LJ and Ash's changes!!

"The Past Builds the Future"

+1 HS
AngryWoody's picture

Dave Biddle called and said Phil Steele stole this from him.

Our Honor Defend!

+5 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

Bradley Roby is honestly one of my least favorite Buckeyes of the modern era because of how he handled that season.

He played with a foot out the door throughout. You could tell when he needed to make a play that he was capable of it. He just wasn't engaged on a consistent basis at all, and the rest of the defense surely noticed and reacted to that. You're supposed to have that one guy who you know is going to get his job done, and then Abbrederis rips him a new one. And what's worse is that in post game interviews he tried to play it off as schematic flaw. F*** THAT. We watched that game, watched you fall for every double move, watched you dive at every ball carrier with your eyes down, watched you face guard every receiver who scorched you, watched you chase Jared across the middle of the field time and time again. Roby lacked heart and frankly I don't think he was ever in it for anybody but himself and that paycheck. I'll always wish the best for him because he was a Buckeye, but that was the classic case of a kid with all the talent in the world and a piss poor attitude/resolve/passion. 

I feel much more angst towards Roby than Pryor. Because at least you never had to question TP's will to win and the love he had for his teammates. I just literally never saw a single example of team-first mentality from Roby.

Gotta stop drinking and posting..

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.

+3 HS
TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

I'm glad I'm not the only one that noticed that about Roby, and I completely agree with you. I distinctly remember this play. Roby is just wandering around, looks almost completely out of position from the beginning, looks lackadaisical, and then reacts late to the play, takes a shitty angle, and makes a half-hearted tackle attempt.

apack614's picture

Just thought about it but jeeeeeeez we had a damn great offense last year!

I can't wait to poop in the PL bathroom.