Co-coordinator Jeff Hafley explains his philosophy on man coverage and teaching players to look for the ball

Defeating blocks, playing the deep ball and letting it rip: Ohio State coaches talk techniques, philosophies

The Ohio State football coaches clinic is always a great place to learn more about the game every spring. 

It was even more interesting this time around with Ryan Day taking over for Urban Meyer as head coach of the Buckeyes and bringing in five new assistant coaches. 

>>RELATED: What to know about Day’s staff

Here are five takeaways from the annual three-day event: 

1. Man coverage is not going away. 

Co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley’s presentation was on press coverage techniques and playing the deep ball, two areas Ohio State struggled last season. 

He teaches his cornerbacks to stand over a receiver and jam him upon first movement, stepping in whatever direction the receiver goes and delivering a punch at the same time in order to disrupt the timing of a route and prevent vertical routes. 

(He had video of Pro Bowler Richard Sherman doing this in practice last year with the 49ers, which probably doesn’t hurt in achieving buy-in from players who want to reach that level.) 

>>RELATED: What happened to the Ohio State defense in 2018?Buckeyes returning to bend-but-don’t-break defense?

To help prevent the deep ball, Hafley has his players kick back at a 45-degree angle to try to cut off the receiver rather than round off and run with him, as they did last year. 

This should allow the Buckeyes to play the ball more often simply because they should be more likely to be in position to do so. 

According to Hafley, the biggest key to defending the deep ball is accelerating through the route when the ball is coming, something many defensive backs fail to do. He tells his DBs to count how many steps it takes them to cover, for instance, 15-18 yards because that is typically when the ball will arrive on a deep route. This becomes a timing mechanism that helps them develop a sense of when to look back for the ball rather than having to guess (and inevitably slow down in the process). While running through the route, he tells players to stay square to the receiver and go after the ball. 

2. There will be an effort to mix up looks in the secondary. 

While previous defensive coordinator Greg Schiano had the Buckeyes secondary in man coverage nearly all the time, new co-coordinator Greg Mattison presented multiple zones that will go into Ohio State’s package. 

One of the primary calls figures to be “Cover 6,” which has a safety deep and a cornerback in the flats (a la Cover 2) on one side and both the safety and cornerback in a matchup zone (Cover 4) on the other. 

It is a scheme Mattison said puts the onus on the free safety to be an excellent all-around player. 

3. The linebackers should be more aggressive. 

Mattison and new linebackers coach coach Al Washington (who were both at Michigan last year) both spoke of re-establishing the line of scrimmage. 

Washington teaches his linebackers to read the running back’s motion and mimic his footwork. If his feet are tight, it will be a power run up the middle and the reaction should be to attack downhill. 

If he slashes his feet, it will be an off-tackle run and they are to track him left or right. 

Washington also talked about teaching the linebackers how to play whether or not they are “in phase” with a blocker.

If so, they have to confront the blocker and go through him. If not — meaning they have a couple of yards of space — they can try to slip them and go by. 

(Last season the linebackers often failed to control their gaps with any force.) 

>>RELATED: 2018 was the best of times, worst of times for Ohio State coaching staff 

They want the defensive linemen to play through an offensive lineman and have the linebackers play downhill to eliminate double teams. 

After creating “knockback,” they instruct their guys to play a gap and a half — their gap and part of the one to the play side. 

New Ohio State linebackers coach talks shop

4. Not everything will be different. 

After spending a total of 13 seasons at Michigan, Mattison had been at Ohio State for about 13 weeks when he gave his presentation, but he seemed right at home talking ball to a fellow coaches at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. 

The former Meyer assistant’s message had a lot in common with what the coaches have been preaching in Columbus for the past few years, too, as he began by explaining the same “4 to 6, A to B” philosophy is still in place. That calls for players to go hard from point A to point B for four to six seconds, the typical length of a play, and let everything else take care of itself. 

>>RELATED: Different motivations lead new coaches to the same place

Mattison’s presentation also included a segment about teaching players at every position (on both sides of the ball) to get their hands on an opponent’s chest to gain inside leverage and control where they can go, technique Ohio State calls, “The Difference.” 

5. New quarterbacks coach coach Mike Yurcich wants his guys to let it rip — every time. 

Using Tom Brady as an example, Yurcich said he wants to see his quarterback swing the hips right with the shoulders going left to create power. This is called “rotational awareness.” 

Later he showed a drill to develop what he called “inch throws” in which the quarterback delivers the ball just over the top of what looked like a batting practice net. This helps develop the touch they need on passes into a tight window. 

>>RELATED: What does ‘Big 12 influence’ mean for the Ohio State offense? 

Most of all, though, he emphasized he wants as many RPMs as possible on every throw, which he reminds them by constantly telling them, “Let it rip!” 

In showing film from practice, he repeatedly said he wanted to see the QB spin it harder even if everything else was otherwise good. 

Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.

X