Ohio State football: Tackling tops Ryan Day’s concerns about Buckeyes in opener

Tackling was the talk of the town Tuesday as Ohio State kicked off the first game week of the 2019 season.

The first thing Ryan Day said he’ll be looking at when the Buckeyes take on Florida Atlantic at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium?

“We have to tackle,” Day said. “We have to take care of the football, and we have to block. So those are the three things that we're really focused on going into this game. Playing a clean game is very, very important.”

“I'm sure coach Day talked about it: We've got to tackle, right? We've gotta run and tackle. We have to do our job,” Hafley said. “And if we do that, and we do it as hard and as fast and as long as we can, then hopefully we'll have a good day.”

And when the coaches were done, the players picked up the same line of messaging.

Defensive tackle Robert “BB” Landers and linebacker Tuf Borland both confirmed tackling has been a point of emphasis in the offseason following what was statistically the worst season in Ohio State history for defense.

“Even on days where we're not in pads and we're not fully hitting, we're going through the mechanics of tackling, pressing the hip, proper technique, proper pursuit angles,” said Landers, a senior tackle from Wayne. “And I feel like that's one thing that we struggled with last season, and that put us in a bind quite a few games.”

Landers described tackling as “the meat and potatoes of football.”

“Tackling, blocking and protecting the ball, those are the three biggest elements of playing football, and I feel like we've hit on that so much this offseason,” he said, “and I feel like our improvement, our development of tackling as a team and individually is going to take people by surprise."

While getting the ball-carrier on the ground is of course a key part of playing defense, Hafley noted why it is even more of a concern early in the season these days with fewer full-contact practices.

"I said it for Ryan when I first got here the thing that kind of concerns me is in college football there is no preseason (game) one, preseason (game) two,” said Hafley, who spent the last seven seasons coaching at the professional level.

“In the NFL, the first preseason game, you miss a lot of tackles. And then preseason two you miss a little bit less and preseason three, you're still missing too many. And then usually around the first game, you got it. We don't have that luxury. And that's why we've had to tackle a lot in practice. And now we have to go and run and tackle on Saturday. And I think our guys' mindset is right for that. And I think our coaches have done a good job.”

Beyond practicality, Day may have another motive in making sure he talks about tackling as much as possible as he tries to put his own stamp on the program after taking over for Urban Meyer in January.

Perhaps the New Hampshire native knows the best way to be accepted by the famously fickle Buckeye faithful is to build a football team in the image of the successful coaches who set the table for him, including not only Meyer but Jim Tressel and Clifton native Woody Hayes.

“Ball security and tackling, those are the two things — I think so much of that comes with being tough,” Day said. "We talk about it all along, how tough we have to be.”

If he needed a reminder, he got one Saturday night from an ESPN documentary that followed the first major college football game of the season between Florida and intra-state rival Miami.

“Woody Hayes was talking about toughness for like 15 minutes. It was really cool because that's the essence of Ohio State,” Day said. “And we hit it right on the head with this thing: It's all about toughness. And tackling is being tough and ball security is toughness. It's toughness locking on to the ball and understanding how important that ball is. Sometimes it's being unselfish and making sure that that ball's locked away, or a quarterback not forcing the ball on the coverage.

“We've got to take care of the football. And we've got to make sure we're tackling.”

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