- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There is no accounting for degree of difficulty in the Ohio State secondary.
Put an easy interception on the ground, and that will be 20 pushups.
Make a quick break on the ball but only get one hand on it? Drop and give the Buckeyes 20.
Simply tip a pass? Same deal.
Ohio State has a clear sense of pride in the high standard it holds itself up to, one the defense has readily admitted it didn't meet a season ago. In the process of correcting that, the defensive backs are raising the bar even higher during training camp by removing any gray area about dropped interceptions or missed opportunities.
"I mean, if you get your hand on the ball, it doesn't matter," senior Orhian Johnson said. "If you touched it, drop down and give me 20 [pushups]. If you put your hand on it, you could have caught it -- so we need 20.
"Being a defensive back, you don't really have too many opportunities. We're going out there and making sure you're taking advantage of those opportunities. We don't want to miss them."
Nobody capitalized on more of them last year than Johnson, who tied for the team lead with cornerback Bradley Roby with three interceptions. And while the Buckeyes finished with 13 picks overall and wrapped up the season No. 14 in the country in pass defense, neither of those numbers left them satisfied heading into practice this month.
So a group loaded with veteran experience at every spot in the secondary has increased the stakes as it tries to tilt the turnover battle in Ohio State's favor by nabbing everything thrown its way -- and avoiding the punishment that comes from letting a pass get away.
"I just feel like right now, we definitely call our room the Playmakers," Johnson said. "I feel like those guys in the safety room can definitely go out and make a lot of plays, and I feel like a lot of those guys in the cornerback room can go out and make a lot of plays. We're just hungry right now. We just want to show everybody that all the hard work we've been doing is paying off.
"We're playing Bullet Ball, and the expectation is to be the best. We go out there and strive to be the best in everything we do. I mean, I felt like we had the opportunities [last season], and we let them go. I felt like we had the guys to go out there and make the plays."
All of those starters are back for another season, and those plays that weren't made have clearly been on their minds for a while and turned into fuel for offseason workouts.
They obviously fed into an incentive program as well, though it's not like the Buckeyes were exactly a mess in the back end in the first place.
Few teams in the country were better statistically against the pass, and while that could partially be attributed to a rushing defense that was only slightly above average nationally, the secondary essentially helped balance that out with the Buckeyes still ending up ranked in the top 20 in total defense.
But simply meeting that mark again isn't a lofty enough goal for Ohio State, which is why safety Christian Bryant went straight to the sideline for a little extra work after a potential interception slipped out of his grasp during an open practice last week.
"When we come together, we talk about being the best defensive backfield in the country," Bryant said. "Overall, we talk about our whole defense being the best defense in the country, and that's really all we're trying to accomplish this year."
And if how the Buckeyes handle the difficult plays will ultimately decide that, for now they'll treat them just like all the easy ones.
8hEthan Sherwood Strauss