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Ohio State won’t back down from press-man coverage: ‘That’s who we are’

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Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette still believes the "sky is the limit' for Buckeyes on defense. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Ohio State won’t back down from press-man coverage: ‘That’s who we are’

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics on the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about the cornerbacks and new position coach Taver Johnson? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

The solution isn’t simple or Ohio State would already have fixed whatever is causing it to keep giving up explosive plays seemingly every week. But there is a tricky combination of factors at play right now for the Buckeyes, and honestly the simplest answer is probably that it’s just going to take some patience — even knowing that the season has reached the midway mark.

Maybe there are some people sick of waiting for the results, and that’s understandable. But it’s important to keep in mind that Ohio State is still undefeated, still has plenty of time to develop and still has more than enough talent and a respected coaching staff capable of getting the pass defense where it needs to be.

It’s hard to replace a first-round talent like Denzel Ward at cornerback, especially when he’s playing like the best rookie defender in the NFL. It’s a challenge to have staff turnover, particularly when former position coach Kerry Coombs had proven he was at the top of his profession. And playing Ohio State’s aggressive press-man style isn’t easy, and even with experienced players like Damon Arnette or Kendall Sheffield, there are going to be times when they will get beat.

But one reason Ohio State has been so successful defensively down the stretch over the last couple years is because it refuses to compromise what it believes. When it comes to technique, scheme and standard at the position, the Buckeyes won’t back down even when there are growing pains or questions about why a defensive back isn’t turning his head around in coverage.

“A lot of us have the same philosophy when it comes to being top-down on a guy and in phase,” new cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. “That gives you some ease that we’re doing and teaching the right things. We’ve just got to teach it and emphasize it more. We work diligently on that. I think we all understand that we’ve got to get a lot better, and our guys are working at it. I’m confident it will happen, for sure.

“We get beat, we never accept it. That’s who we are. That’s what we signed up for. There are some situations where we will play some zone. We will play some bail [technique]. But that’s who we are, our guys understand that and we know we have to get it done.”

Taver Johnson-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football-Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson has plenty of talent to work with to improve the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The Buckeyes haven’t done that yet at the level that’s expected, and they aren’t hiding from that fact. Even if they were, the passing yardage given up, the lengthy touchdowns and the amount of penalty flags would provide some clear evidence that there is work to do.

But Ohio State has also made enough plays to secure key wins away from the Horseshoe against high-powered offenses. And from that perspective, the Buckeyes can actually take some solace in the fact that they did it without even being a finished product yet and time ahead of them to keep growing.

“We’re definitely not to our potential yet,” cornerback Damon Arnette said. “But we’ve still got faith in our talents and our coaching.

“The sky is the limit for us still, and we’re still getting better every day.”

There’s always urgency when every game counts. But Ohio State doesn’t need to scrap a proven plan of development just because it takes a little time.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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