One of the more anticipated features of Ohio State’s revamped defense this season was the position known as the “bullet.”
The well-crafted name added to the intrigue.
It remains a hybrid safety-linebacker spot brought by Greg Mattison, the Buckeyes’ new defensive co-coordinator. As the defensive line coach at Michigan, Mattison was part of a coaching staff that formed a similar position known as the “viper.”
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It’s designed to replace one of the three linebackers in a standard 4-3 defense, lending additional versatility to its pass coverage and a better ability to cope with the up-tempo spread offenses that permeate college football.
But the debut of the bullet through the first two games for Ohio State has been less flashy.
Mattison said its limited use was owed to matchups with Florida Atlantic and Cincinnati, both of which lined up in formations that often included two tight ends, a look that did not prompt the Buckeyes to deviate much from their base defense.
“When teams start to spread out, start getting a little looser that way,” Mattison said, “we like to go with the bullet position.”
The response suggests the trend could change as soon as Saturday when Ohio State visits Indiana.
Like other teams in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers run a variation of the spread offense. If the bullet is to be incorporated more over the following weeks, the player likely to benefit is Brendon White, a junior who is officially listed as a safety.
White has seen only 33 snaps in the first two games, according to data from Pro Football Focus, evidence of a smaller role. He has five tackles. Mattison added that the frequency of the bullet spot was also tied to White’s comfort, but that the safety was adjusting to the new position.
“Every rep he gets, the more he plays, the better we are,” Mattison said.
White ended last season on a high note when he was named the defensive MVP in the Rose Bowl win over Washington, finishing with eight tackles and intercepting a pass on a two-point conversion attempt.
For him, the reduced role for the bullet was personal. But as he spoke with reporters this week, he took the development in stride.
“It's definitely frustrating sometimes,” White said, “but you’ve got to know why you're here. You're here to win games, and whether you play or if I'm not playing, I'm still here to help my brothers win games.”
The mood inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was lifted by the strong start from the defense.
After shutting out Cincinnati 42-0, White remarked, “We have more swagger to us. We have confidence."
It helped him maintain a more positive outlook about his status.
“If I'm worried about not playing, then I'm being selfish and not caring about the team first,” White said. “In order for us to win, I can't be selfish. I've got to put the team first and respect the brotherhood, my plays and snaps.”
The Buckeyes went only so far to tip their hand about employing the bullet, but White was one of the two defensive players who spoke at the lectern Tuesday afternoon in front of reporters.
Would the matchup with Indiana necessitate more from him?
“I think they potentially could,” White said, “but … I'm just going to get ready for this week and keep doing what I've been doing for the past two weeks. Hopefully if I get out there, I get out there and play, and if I don't, sit there and support.”