Brendon White played at least 58 defensive snaps in each of Ohio State’s final six games of last season.
In Ohio State’s first two games of this season, White has played just 34 total snaps.
Considering that White was one of the Buckeyes’ best defensive players down the stretch of last season, including a 13-tackle performance against Nebraska and a defensive player of the game performance in the Rose Bowl, he was expected to play a major role in Ohio State’s defense again this year. So far, though, that hasn’t materialized.
White started for the Buckeyes in their season opener against FAU, a game in which he lined up primarily as a defensive back, but played only 19 snaps – less than half as many as slot cornerback Shaun Wade, who he rotated in and out of the lineup within that game.
Against Cincinnati on Saturday, White played only 15 snaps. He lined up primarily as a linebacker against the Bearcats, but only rotated into the lineup occasionally, with Pete Werner taking most of the Sam linebacker snaps.
While White started alongside Jordan Fuller at safety during the latter portion of last season, he’s moved to the bullet position in Ohio State’s new defensive scheme, which has used just one deep safety for the vast majority of plays in the Buckeyes’ first two games. Two games into the season, it remains unclear exactly how White fits into the defense, which features four defensive linemen, three linebackers, three cornerbacks and one safety in its base package.
Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison still expects White to play a bigger role, though, as the season progresses and the Buckeyes face offenses that operate differently than their first two opponents.
“A lot of the teams we’ve played against have been in some 12 personnel, two tight ends,” Mattison said on Tuesday. “When teams start spreading out and start getting a little looser that way, we’d like to go with the bullet position more.”
Werner has been a mainstay on Ohio State’s first-team defense in its first two games of the season, playing 95 snaps – most among all linebackers and fourth-most among all defenders, following Fuller and cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah – but that could change in games against spread offenses when the Buckeyes could benefit from having another player with defensive back skills on the field.
“It’s gonna be depending on who you’re playing against,” Mattison said. “In other words, is this team a team that has two tight ends in the game a lot? Is this the type of team that you need a 245-pound linebacker (Werner) as compared to a 215-pound athlete (White)?”
White acknowledged that it has been “definitely frustrating sometimes” to spend so much time on the bench in the first two games after playing so much in the final six games of 2018. He understands, though, that the Buckeyes are simply trying to put the players on the field who they believe match up most effectively with their opponent.
“I definitely think it comes with the scheme and what the offensive team is giving us. My job right now is just when I go out there and I’m finally out there, to do my job and make plays for my team,” White said. “At the end of the day, you got to know why you’re here. You’re here to win games, and whether I’m playing or I’m not playing, I’m still here to help my brothers win games and be there for them.”
Werner also understands that he might not play as much in some games as he has in the first two games, and he’s OK with that, recognizing that he and White bring some different attributes to the defense.
“We’re confident in both of each other’s abilities that whether he’s out there or I’m out there, we’re confident in our defensive scheme that we’re gonna put the best person out there to do the job,” said Werner, who also lined up at safety on a couple plays in Saturday’s game but is considered to be a true Sam linebacker instead of a bullet. “We complement each other, and whatever Coach tells us to do, we’re gonna do that.”
Even though White hasn’t seen a ton of playing time, Mattison – who serves as the position coach for both the Sam linebackers and bullets in addition to coordinating the defense –has been pleased with what he has seen from White so far this season. White has taken advantage of the playing time he’s gotten, recording six total tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a pass breakup, and was named as a champion for his play against Cincinnati.
“Brendon had a good week last week of practice and did some very good things in the game,” Mattison said. “That’s a new position for him. And every rep he gets, the more he plays it, the better we are, and it’s been good.”
“At the end of the day, you got to know why you’re here. You’re here to win games, and whether I’m playing or I’m not playing, I’m still here to help my brothers win games and be there for them.”– Brendon White on accepting his role
Ohio State’s third game of the season against Indiana, set for Saturday at noon, could potentially be an opportunity for White to play a more substantial role. The Hoosiers run a spread offense that typically puts at least three receivers on the field and no more than one tight end, which means the Buckeyes could be more inclined to use the bullet rather than three traditional linebackers.
White said he’s not focusing on how much he’ll playing time he’ll see on Saturday, though, but simply being ready for whatever role the Buckeyes call on him to play.
“At the end of the day, I’m just gonna get ready for this week and keep doing what I’ve been doing the past two weeks and hopefully if I get out there, I get out there and I play,” White said.