COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If not for Urban Meyer’s preseason vow to get more involved in fixing issues on the other side of the ball, it might have looked like the famed offensive coach was trapped in a defensive Bermuda triangle when spring practice opened at Ohio State.
In the corner of an end zone to his left, defensive linemen were working on hand placement and preparing to fight off blockers. To his right, the secondary was fine-tuning backpedals and taking instructions from a new assistant intent on molding the defensive backs into a more aggressive unit. Behind Meyer as he stood on the opposite end of the field from his high-powered offense was a group of linebackers going through their individual drills, trying to develop depth at a position that has been publicly challenged by the Buckeyes coach more than any other on the roster this offseason.
Meyer didn’t say much and didn’t blow his whistle while he soaked in the first workout of camp on Tuesday afternoon, though that could possibly be contributed to doctor’s orders after his surgery to remove fluid from an arachnoid cyst last weekend. But his presence alone for extended periods of action reinforced what he’s stressed since last season ended in such defensive dysfunction for the Buckeyes -- Meyer is going to play a part in the rebuilding effort.
“I felt like we lost something on defense,” Meyer said after practice. “We have a mantra, a culture that I want to make sure we don’t lose. It’s 4-to-6 seconds [of effort], Point A to Point B, that’s who we are. That’s the last thing I say to every team before they take the field because I want them to go hard and not be worried about mistakes.
“I felt like we were a ‘what if’ defense last year. ‘What if they did this?’ I saw it from our coaches, I saw it from our players.”
While the Buckeyes were busy asking themselves those questions, they were often struggling to come with any answers as the defense completely unraveled down the stretch and the dream of a national championship slipped away with every big passing play they allowed.
For a program with such a proud tradition on defense and a coach with such high standards, the numbers are hard to stomach -- most notably the 268 passing yards allowed per game that ranked No. 110 in the nation. The Buckeyes also allowed at least 30 points on six different occasions, including the last three games of the season, a shootout win over Michigan and the losses to Michigan State and Clemson that left them without a Big Ten title or a win in a bowl game.
And while the Buckeyes could point to the lack of depth at linebacker or key injuries in the secondary as a significant part of the problem, Meyer has zeroed in elsewhere. And he doesn’t need to be a defensive guru to make sure that the problem is addressed.
“To me, it’s all go,” Meyer said. “It’s not the call, it’s not always thinking about plays, it’s the ability -- every great one I’ve been around, it’s an absolute relentless effort to the ball if you’re on defense. Whether it’s 3-4, 4-3, whatever the coverage is ... it used to be a game based on effort. I want to get back to that. That’s all I’m telling them.
“We’ve scored many, many touchdowns on offense and we’ve played some great defense when maybe guys were misaligned or made a couple mistakes because they overcame it with effort. I didn’t feel that way last year, and really haven’t felt that way the last two years.”
Meyer clearly isn’t interested in extending that feeling for a third season with the Buckeyes. And it seems he’s willing to plant himself smack in the middle of the defense until it goes away.