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Buckeyes continue to toy with Bullet in fluid defense

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The role for Brendon White within the Ohio State defense remains fluid. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Buckeyes continue to toy with Bullet in fluid defense

COLUMBUS — Brendon White had his position in the Ohio State defense talked about all offseason.

But for all the talk about the Bullet and how big of an impact White would have, Ohio State hasn’t used him as much as he may have been expected.

White, a junior from just up the road in Powell, seemed to be a shoo-in at the Bullet spot when Greg Mattison was hired from Michigan. White showed his versatility during the back half of the season last year, which included a defensive MVP crown in the Rose Bowl back in January.

But that hasn’t happened yet. Will it? White and the Buckeyes maintain it’s more about matchups when it comes to his relative lack of snaps through two games. But the Bullet, while confusing for offenses, continues to fluctuate in the Ohio State defense.

“I definitely think it comes with the scheme of what the offensive team is giving us,” White said. “My job is when I get out there, when I’m finally out there, to just do my job and make plays for my team. At the end of the day, if I’m playing a lot, if I’m not playing at all, I just want to get the win. That’s all that matters to me.”

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Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is still expanding the use of the Bullet for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

While White, a defensive back last year and a glorified linebacker this season, has been on the sideline for a majority of the snaps, Pete Werner has been on the field making plays and finding success in the new free-flowing defensive scheme. As far as the Bullet is concerned, White is learning the linebacker aspects of the spot from Werner. In exchange, Werner is learning to play defensive back some from White.

Werner played defensive back in high school, so he knows a little about how to play in the backend for Ohio State. But on the Shaun Wade strip sack of Cincinnati’s quarterback Saturday, the entire defense rotated, and Werner became the deep safety. It’s a new wrinkle he may not have expected, but that’s what the hybrid position does to the offense.

But that’s where it gets tricky; Werner still considers himself a “SAM” linebacker by definition. And Werner believes the strong-side linebacker in this year’s defense fits him better than in the previous defense at Ohio State. It helps that he has another year of experience behind him, but the scheme does seem to fit the junior based on his early production. The SAM and the Bullet have also become almost interchangeable, making the situation fluid when it comes to playing time.

“It’s definitely frustrating sometimes,” White said. “But at the end of the day, you have to know why you’re here. You’re here to win games. Whether I need to play or if I’m not playing, I’m still here to help my brothers win games.”

Maybe it’s scheme, keeping a linebacker such as Werner on the field for heavy-running opponents. Maybe White will be on the field for spread teams like Indiana, Nebraska and Maryland. But that will sort itself out.

After all, Ohio State has only played two games.

“It’s a whole new position,” Werner said. “It’s kind of like switching from a [defensive back] to a linebacker. It’s just taking a while to adjust. And now, he’s doing great. He had a great game last week. We kind of complement each other.

“I do some good things that he picks up on. He does some great things that I can learn from.”

White and Werner continue to grow. So far, whatever Ohio State is doing with the linebackers, Bullets and the defense as a whole is working. They already claimed a shutout. They’re creating turnovers. They’re having fun and they’re getting off the field. None of those things can be said about last year’s defense.

“We’d get third-and-5, we’d get ready to get off the field — and then there’s a 25-yard gain,” Werner said. “Or if it’s first-and-10, they’d get a 25-yard gain or they’re running down the field for a touchdown and you’re just like: ‘What’s going on?’

“Just one little thing could lead to a big play. Now, we have a feel for where we can, if everybody does their job, runs to the football, it’s not going to mess you up too bad.”

As offenses continue to try cracking the schemes Ohio State is throwing at them, White and Werner will learn more from each other. But don’t bank on gaining any immediate clarity when it comes to the Bullet’s definition.

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.