New Ohio State football assistants answer some scheme questions

Wednesday was a good day for Ohio State recruiting junkies and football nerds alike.

Not only did coach Ryan Day add a pair of offensive linemen to finish off his 2019 recruiting class, his assistants also met with the media for the first time since signing on to be part of Day's first staff.

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Although the grease board and markers did not come out for real Xs and Os work, some of the assistants gave strong hints about what kinds of things they will bring to the Buckeyes this season.

Here are four questions that were answered:

1. Will Ohio State continue to have a 4-3 base defense? 

There was not much doubt the Buckeyes would continue to deploy a four-man front given the histories of new co-coordinator Greg Mattison and holdover defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who is back for his sixth season in Columbus with the added title of assistant head coach, but some teams have adopted a 4-2-5 nickel as their regular defense to combat the rise of spread offenses across the country.

Mattison declined to get into schematics in his introductory press conference, but co-coordinator Jeff Hafley indicated they plan to keep using a 4-3 set and a nickel package.

“I think we'll have to be in both based on who we're playing, based on how we match up for certain teams,” Hafley said. “Are they going to run the ball or are they going to throw the ball? What the down and distance is, what personnel are they in, what tendency is it, how good is their slot receiver, how good is our Sam, how good is our nickel. I'd love to talk scheme with you for the next 30 minutes, but there's going to be so much that goes into that because we've got to do a good job. Coach Mattison and myself and the staff have to do a good job week to week trying to figure that out.”

Expect the strong-side or SAM linebacker in the base defense to be a hybrid player who can tackle in space and cover backs and tight ends, and look for him to be replaced by a true defensive back on passing downs and more frequently against teams that like to throw the ball around the yard.

2. Will there be any adjustment to how defensive backs are taught? 

A constant source of consternation among Ohio State fans — and really casual football followers everywhere — is seeing cornerbacks get called for pass interference when they run into receivers with their backs to the ball.

The question got Hafley fired up.

"All we do is practice turning and looking for the ball,” he said. "DB coaches teach to turn and look for the football. We promise you we will practice to teach — this is awesome that you asked this because now no one can tweet this out or say this. We are going to work on turning and looking and trying to intercept the football when we're in man.”

However, there is more to that answer than meets the eye as some situations dictate different tactics.

“Now, there's certain parts of the field where it's not good to do that,” Hafley added. "So if we don't do it in a game, it might be a certain part of the field, but I promise you, come and watch individual, we'll turn and look for the ball.”

3. Man coverage or zone? 

With Ohio State coming off a season in which it lived and more often died playing man coverage almost exclusively (until later in the season), Hafley was also asked his philosophy on secondary schematics.

“I'm a big believer in playing press (man), but I also believe you have to change it up,” Hafley said. “So we’ll be some press, we'll be some off, we'll be a little bit of everything, but it's a good question because I know how much they've pressed here. But we'll continue to do some of that, and we'll do some other stuff, as well.

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4. Are there changes coming to the offense? 

Mike Yurcich is the only new assistant on that side of the ball, and the new quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator figures to be adding wrinkles more than overhauling anything after the most prolific passing season in Ohio State history.

The former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator’s impact might even be greater on the ground than through the air.

"In the run game, they've inserted things where they take a tight end or fullback and insert him in the run game, which is kind of a pro-style way to attack in 11 personnel (three receivers, one running back, one tight end) without getting too into X's and O’s,” Day said. “I thought they did a really good job of that.”

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