CHICAGO — Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper knew the questions were coming.
He’s not mad at the media for asking them. He even made sure to tell reporters he likes and appreciates them.
But that doesn’t mean the continuous barrage of questions about Ohio State’s defensive woes last season didn’t get old after the second — and third, fourth, fifth and sixth — time those were asked.
Cooper’s deliberate tone with each answer showed how anxious he is to get back on the field and erase the memories of 80-plus yard runs and blown coverages. Ohio State’s historically bad defense from a season ago is the fuel for what’s expected to come this fall.
“That will be a relief when I don’t have to hear about last year anymore,” Cooper said. “I’m excited for Week One. I’m really excited to show the nation what we have to offer and show them that we’re not [that anymore].
“With everything that did happen last year, we realized that. We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder.”
Cooper described the defense this offseason as hungry, ready and anxious. But when Ohio State coach Ryan Day stepped to the podium for his first press conference of the day Thursday, his term seemed to fit the feelings of the defense the best: The unit is salty.
After a season of doubts surrounding the defense, a new defensive staff was hired. Day poached Al Washington and Greg Mattison from Michigan. He brought on Jeff Hafley, who has coached defensive backs in the NFL. He retained legendary defensive line coach Larry Johnson, but turned over the others.
Nearly every starter from last year’s defense returns this fall. They know how last year went. And they want to correct it.
“There’s a group of guys over there who are salty who have a lot to prove,” Day said.
Nobody just forgot what happened a year ago. Everyone remembers Purdue’s Rondale Moore breaking tackles on his way to the end zone to hand the Buckeyes their lone loss from a year ago. They have the memory of Anthony McFarland Jr. busting runs outside for untouched touchdowns.
Those things aren’t just forgotten. But Ohio State seems to embrace those instances.
“We remember last year,” senior captain and safety Jordan Fuller said. “So we still have a chip on our shoulder and we take that into this year.
“The only effect it could have is a positive one.”
Talks about the defense began to shift in the spring, when assistant coaches and players spoke of a simplified system and a new scheme. Questions about the new Bullet position became the talk of spring camp. The overhauled defense felt a change in the way they can play. The confidence has found new life.
“We have good players. We have a good staff. I think we have a good scheme,” Day said. “So when I go to bed at night, I think to myself, ‘Boy, we should be pretty good.”
The talent was on the roster for a good defense last year. Things went wrong, and it didn’t equal a product that could stop opposing offenses. Fuller and Cooper are sure that it won’t happen again, and they’re ready to show that. Like Day said, they have quite a bit to prove.
As he sat at Big Ten Media Days and was grilled with questions about last year’s effort, Cooper knows what will happen next.
“We’re going to get our swagger back and play like the Silver Bullets that we know we are capable of,” he said.