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What We Learned from Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Mattison

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Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison spoke to the media Wednesday. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

What We Learned from Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Mattison

COLUMBUS — It’s not a secret that the Ohio State defense won’t look like it did a year ago.

But as training camp unfolds, the blurry vision everyone outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center has about the defense is starting to become clear. And the Bullet is going to be a big part of what the Buckeyes do on defense.

When asked about the hybrid position and its core purpose on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who spurned Michigan for Ohio State early in the offseason, gave the media a better idea of what the Bullet will look like.

“We have a [strong-side] linebacker who is very, very athletic and very, very fast,” Mattison said. “The Bullet position ends up being a way for us to have great depth at the Sam position. You can have them, they can be interchangeable. The Bullet position has been very good for us, gives us a lot more flexibility to be able to play a lot more positions.

The young men that have done a good job of that are Brendan White — has done a really good job — and Jahsen Wint. Both of them have had very good camps.”

Mattison’s 20 minutes with the media acted as a sneak-peek for what the Ohio State defense might include this season. Here’s what Lettermen Row learned from Mattison.

Ohio State starting linebackers may not change

The most scrutinized position group from last season’s Ohio State defense, the linebackers have continued to face the tough questions heading into training camp. Mattison seems to believe in the three Buckeyes who started a year ago, despite their lackluster play last year.

Malik Harrison’s job was never up for grabs. The All-Big Ten honorable mention performer was impressive despite the historically bad Ohio State defense. But the other two spots were made available by new linebackers coach Al Washington and Mattison in the spring.

Unless Mattison is bluffing, the linebacking unit may not change, though.

On Pete Werner: “I really believe he is a top guy at his position,” Mattison said. “I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of good football players, and I am really impressed with him. He plays extremely hard. He’s very physical. He’s got great size and strength, and he can run. He’s got unbelievable character.

“There’s not many other things you need to be a good football player, and that’s what he’s showing.”

On Tuf Borland: “I like everything about Tuf Borland.”

That’s a confident defensive coordinator, but he made sure not to name starters.

Buckeyes might rotate at linebacker

As confident as Mattison seemed in his three linebackers, the younger backers on the Silver Bullets have been making waves in Ohio State training camp, as well.

“Another guy who’s had a good camp so far is Baron Browning,” Mattison said. “I could go on and on. Teradja [Mitchell] has had a good camp. Dallas [Gant], that group of backers, they have all done a very, very good job. Al’s done a super job with them. They understand their importance in this defense.”

The Buckeyes are deep at every position, but it appears linebacker can be added to the list of units the coaches are confident in at Ohio State. Ryan Day touched on wanting to build the linebackers room last week, and Mattison and Washington seem to be doing that.

“The way teams are going to attack us, we better have a first starter, a second starter and a third starter,” Mattison said.

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Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning is pushing for a role for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Greg Mattison impressed by Ohio State culture

Mattison has now seen both sides of The Game. He was in Schembechler Hall in Ann Arbor last season. Now, he roams the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Ohio State’s culture built by Urban Meyer and kept so far by Ryan Day has impressed Mattison in his first few months on the job.

“One thing that stands out to me being new here is our veterans and our young men that have been in this program do an unbelievable job of teaching,” Mattison said. “When they see something that isn’t right, it’s not done wrong the way they’re saying it, it’s corrected. They help the young man, and then they move on. That’s one of the reasons why the young guys improve a lot faster than they would.”

Defensive coaches are working well together

Mattison came over from Michigan, as did Al Washington. Matt Barnes was at Maryland last year. Jeff Hafley wasn’t even coaching in college football, but he was in San Francisco with the 49ers.

Each of them had to come in and get to know each other. It helped that Day retained legendary defensive line coach Larry Johnson, and the Ohio State defensive coaching staff is learning from each other and getting better.

“It’s all like we knew each other,” Mattison said. “Obviously, Al and I were together. But Jeff has done a tremendous job. Larry’s just such a great coach and a great person. You can go right down through them, Matt Barnes. It’s been tremendous going together to get this done.”

As far as transitions go, this one from the defensive staff has gone over smoothly.

Spencer Holbrook

Spencer Holbrook covers Ohio State football and basketball for Lettermen Row. A graduate of Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism, he's in his second year covering the Buckeyes. He was previously the sports editor at Ohio's student newspaper, The Post, where he covered Ohio University football and men's basketball.