OSU players major in communication

Joey Kaufman
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr.'s improvement in communication on the field helped him in his record-setting season for Ohio State in 2018. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Months before Dwayne Haskins Jr. broke nearly every single-season passing record at Ohio State, his demeanor at summer workouts and throwing sessions caused a level of concern among his coaches.

Haskins was too quiet.

The situation needed to be remedied.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson recalled the coaches' idea for a solution. It wasn’t a complicated one. They just needed to find ways to encourage Haskins to talk more.

Meetings for offensive players or quarterbacks made for some good practice. They had Haskins stand near the center of the room, in front of teammates, with a play call to holler at them. If his words were too faint, they shouted for him to be louder.

“As a young player who hadn’t played much, he would be very quiet in front of his offense,” Wilson said. “We were like, ‘Hey you gotta speak up.’ ”

In gradual fashion, Haskins did, improving his command as he stepped into the starting quarterback role with the Buckeyes for the first time.

Summer months are an unusual point on the college football calendar. On-field coaches do not run practices until preseason training camp begins in early August. The players are largely limited to strength and conditioning workouts with staff or sessions they organize for themselves without coaches present.

But one area the Buckeyes coaches can still harp on involves communication. Haskins’ quietness was not unique.

Wilson, the 57-year-old assistant who began his coaching career more than three decades ago, observed that this generation of players, raised with smartphones since they were at least pre-teens, is often too reserved.

“In this day and age, kids just don’t talk,” Wilson said. “They’re on their phones texting. They talk with their thumbs. It’s like teaching a guy how to stand. We just had to force it.”

There is no escape from talking on the field, especially for quarterbacks. In the seconds before nearly every snap, they line up behind center and bark directions all sorts of ways — for wide receivers to adjust their routes or for linemen to alter their protection to account for a potential blitzing pass rusher.

Defensive players, especially linemen and linebackers, reposition themselves to counter for opposing offenses that shift formations.

With some stadiums, including Ohio Stadium, filled with more than 100,000 screaming fans, speaking softly won’t get the job done.

“One of the biggest things we have to do is communicate,” said Greg Mattison, the Buckeyes’ co-defensive coordinator.

Mattison said he urged good communication from the team’s linebackers when he spoke with some of them Wednesday.

Their defensive line, Mattison told them, was arguably the best in the nation. That meant the linemen needed to be in the correct positions before each the snap. In some instances, they would need to move a few feet to their left or a few feet to their right.

The direction often comes from the linebackers, who have a better sightline of the opposing formation, and the defensive linemen are left too far into the trenches.

“Your job as a linebacker, No. 1, is to get that talented big group in front of you set,” Mattison said. “Then you can have a lot more fun playing.”

Summertime requires the resourcefulness.

If the assistant coaches cannot lead the players through passing routes or tackling, they must find other areas for players to find improvement.

“There’s a lot of things you can develop,” Wilson said. “You can develop leadership, and you can develop communication skills. That’s as much a part of coaching as learning a curl route or picking up a twist.”

Call it summer school.


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