One of Urban Meyer’s mantras during his coaching tenure was for Ohio State to be “Nine Strong,” as in all nine position groups being self-contained units playing at maximum potential.
That phrase hasn’t disappeared from the Ohio State lexicon, but in practice, if not in words, it is being modified, especially in terms of the thinking on defense.
Yes, it remains important for, say, the defensive line to be a tight unit. It is also crucial that each unit jell with others, something that was lacking last year.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
“I think in the past we've kind of focused on individual units,” linebacker Tuf Borland said Tuesday. “We always talked ‘Nine Strong,’ (that) each individual unit has to be strong in itself.
"This year, I feel it's been more of a team approach — linebackers bonding with the D-line, D-line bonding with the DBs, whatever it is. We've really emphasized cohesion.”
That was often lacking in 2018. More than occasionally, it looked like the linebackers weren’t in sync with the defensive backs, and even the cornerbacks didn’t work in concert with safeties. This year, with the coaching changes, the defensive backs are all in one meeting room instead of having the cornerbacks and safeties separated. Co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, with Matt Barnes as his assistant, is in charge of the entire secondary.
The emphasis on cohesion extends beyond position units. The assistant coaches have worked hard to make sure they’re in unison, too. Hafley and Greg Mattison have the defensive coordinator titles, but Hafley said all coaches have input.
“We have fun together in there,” he said. “We challenge each other. I don't think anybody's afraid to say what's on their mind, to come up with an idea. We've all sat in rooms before and you kind of bite your tongue (thinking) I shouldn't say anything here, whether it's in the run game or the pass game.”
Jackson fitting in
The offensive line is often the most tight-knit unit on a football team. That’s largely because the linemen embrace doing the unglamorous, often-overlooked work required of them and must work as a seamless unit.
Such chemistry takes time to develop, but right tackle Branden Bowen said left guard Jonah Jackson has blended in quickly since his arrival after leaving Rutgers as a graduate transfer in the spring.
He cited Jackson's leadership and maturity as reasons. Jackson was a captain for the Scarlet Knights.
“I’m absolutely surprised,” Bowen said. “I mean, coming in I don't think I could have realized how much or how well he would have jelled into the group as he does now.”