Ohio State defensive coordinator worries about Ohio State’s front seven, but believes there’s enough talent to make up for inexperience.
COLUMBUS — Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell had a small crowd of reporters around him at Ohio State’s media day on Sunday. It was a far different scene from the hundreds of reporters at head coach Urban Meyer’s news conference just a few minutes before.
Fickell is plenty familiar with big news conferences. He was the center of a few as Ohio State’s interim head coach two years ago. It’s one part of being a head coach that Fickell doesn’t miss.
“You’ve got a little bit more specific role (as an assistant coach),” Fickell said. “… When you go to that next step (as a head coach) it’s a little bit different. There’s a lot of other things that you’ve got to deal with that aren’t on just the side of football and 18 to 22-year-old kids that you love.”
Ohio State defense looks drastically different than it did last season. The Buckeyes are inexperienced on the defensive line and at linebacker. There are no linebackers like A.J. Hawk or James Laurnitis this season. There are no defensive lineman like Cameron Heyward or John Simon.
Fickell is worried how long it will take for Ohio State’s news starters to get acclimated.
“I love our guys to death, but what will some of them do in front of 107,000 people?” Fickell said. “That’s reality. Do we love what they can do? Do we love the way they go and the way they bought in? Absolutely. We’ve tested them, we continue to test them, but until we actually see it done in that stadium, there will always be a little question. You knew you weren’t going to get anything different from a John Simon. With young guys, you don’t know.”
Fickell thinks sophomores Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence could be big playmakers for Ohio State on the defensive line. He also said he’s happy to have Centerville native Michael Bennett back and fully healthy on the line as well.
Junior Ryan Shazier will lead Ohio State at linebacker. Fickell said Ohio State needs to develop more at the position.
Fickell thinks Ohio State’s strength on defense will be its backfield. Cornerback Bradley Roby and safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett are returning starters for the Buckeyes.
“It gives you an opportunity to be able do some things with them, whether you play man coverage or you scheme up some things,” Fickell said of Ohio State’s defensive back corps. “They understand what we’re doing there. They understand the concepts and you can make adjustments.
“The thing that worries us is you can get them prepared for a game by, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do,’ but when you make an adjustment in a game, if you don’t have guys with a little bit of maturity and understand what you’re doing, it’s really, really difficult. With having that experience back there, they’re going to give us the ability to make some changes during a game.”
Fickell also said Ohio State’s coaching staff has more experience with each other since last season.
“It’s great to have those people around that you truly, truly know,” Fickell said. “That’s what’s great about being in the second year of your staff. You know them a little bit better. You know what it’s going to be like when you’re down in the fourth quarter and something happens and how everybody is going to react and respond. That’s almost invaluable. People don’t understand how big of a factor that is in this kind of business.”
Aside from his year as head coach in 2011, Fickell has coached at Ohio State under John Cooper, Jim Tressel and Meyer. He said he’s now used to how Meyer runs the team.
“With the way our offense is, it’s a bit more up-tempo,” Fickell said. “We are all physical a times. But the reality is the competitive level — the competitive nature on a daily basis — is different. That’s something that we do a lot of, the winner and the losers, put those guys in those situations where we’re going to evaluate them at the end of every practice and there’s going to be a winner and there’s going to be a loser. It makes for some really competitive practices.”
That competitive culture helped Ohio State go undefeated last season. Ohio State will now try to do what it couldn’t last season: take an undefeated record into the Big Ten Championship Game and play in a bowl game.
“The expectations don’t ever change,” Fickell said. “This will be my 12th year as a coach. I don’t know if most of the (fans) around wouldn’t have some expectations that you have the ability to go 12-0. Whether it’s reality or not, the expectations are probably never going to change.”
TBSN Audio Extra: Luke Fickell media day interview