Urban Meyer Bolsters OSU Defensive Staff
by Nathan McCarter
Feb 27, 2014 2:24 AM EST
Ohio State bolstered its defensive coaching staff with two moves in mid-January.
ESPN's Joe Schad first reported that OSU reached deals with Larry Johnson Jr. and Chris Ash. Johnson will coach the defensive line, and Ash will be the co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
The Buckeyes' defense has been a weakness, and it potentially cost them a shot at the national championship in the Big Ten Championship against Michigan State.
Here is a look at the two new coaches:
Defensive Line: Larry Johnson
Coaching history: Penn State (1996-99 – DE/ST, 2000-14 – DL)
Johnson has a history of quality defensive fronts. In his tenure at Penn State he sent 12 linemen to the NFL with six of those being first round draft choices. He molded talent such as Courtney Brown, Aaron Maybin, and Jimmy Kennedy.
The recent downturn at Penn State is a result of the sanctions against the Nittany Lions. It took away their depth, and that is crucial on the defensive front in the new age of up-tempo offenses. He will have quality talent to develop once again while in Columbus with the likes of premier players Michael Bennett and Noah Spence.
What makes this an even better hire? Johnson should have an impact on recruiting. He has established himself in the region, and now he brings those connections to Columbus. Meyer mentioned in a recent press conference that Johnson has already had an impact. It was Johnson who pulled Darius Slade away from Michigan State to the Buckeyes on National Signing Day.
The fan reaction on social media was overwhelmingly positive for a coach who does not receive a lot of press. It speaks to how highly regarded Johnson is in the Big Ten region.
Mike Vrabel brought in recent NFL experience and big-name value to the casual fans. However, Johnson brings in a bigger resume for coaching the position. Vrabel moved from playing in the NFL to coaching the Buckeyes' linebackers before coach Meyer moved him to the line. Now with Vrabel going to the Houston Texans to coach, Johnson brings his more than 15 years of experience at a top-flight program to the Buckeyes.
Johnson should continue his success at Ohio State. He'll have all the resources and talent to do so. This is a move where Johnson can come in and have an immediate impact. He is not moving to coach a different position or handle more responsibilities that will drag his focus away, and can continue doing exactly what he has always done.
Co-Defensive Coordinator, Defensive Backs: Chris Ash
Coaching history: Princeton (1997 – DB), Duke (1998-99 – DC), Iowa State (2000-06, 2009 – DB), San Diego State (2007-08 – DB), Wisconsin (2010 – DB, 2011-12 – DC/DL), Arkansas (2013 – DC)
Ohio State's biggest deficiency on defense last year was the secondary, and Meyer hopes to fix that by bringing Chris Ash back to the Big Ten. From the same press conference where Meyer spoke on Johnson, he had this to say about Ash:
"And then Chris Ash is charged with a serious responsibility. That's to improve our pass defense. He'll be in charge of the entire back end of our defense. He's going to coach safety. [Kerry Coombs] going to continue to coach corners. However, we're going to have one voice back there, it's his responsibility to improve our pass defense."
Coombs was the defensive backs coach last season and remains with the team as the cornerbacks and special teams coach. Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers took the head coaching job at James Madison, which opened the door for Ash.
The Buckeyes ranked 30th in the NCAA in interceptions (16), but gave up too many big plays through the air. Part of the reason the numbers are skewed for the Buckeyes is the conference in which they play. There is more an emphasis on old-school, smash-mouth football and less on the new wide-open style seen throughout college football.
According to the S&P+ rankings, the Buckeyes ranked 61st in passing defense.
Ash posted good results at Wisconsin, and his focus throughout his coaching career has been the defensive backfield. He has experience in four of the five power conferences as well. Throw in Ohio State's top-tier recruiting classes and this should equal a much improved secondary.
One question entering the season will be how well Ash and Luke Fickell work together as co-defensive coordinators. Meyer made it clear that as of now Fickell will have the final say in defensive calls unless it is third down or he wants a specific focus on pass defense.
The spring game will answer a lot of questions about the new-look Buckeyes defense. It will make the Scarlet and Gray game much more interesting to watch in 2014.