October 16, 2009

Gridiron Symbiosis?

Stats don't always tell the story when it comes to how a defense or an offense is performing. In 2009 the Ohio State defense has racked up 37 tackles for loss and 18 sacks to date. The sack number is good for (tied) 12th in the nation and the tackle for loss number checks in at 47th. Ohio State is accustomed to putting up big numbers in both categories (save 2008 where the numbers were significantly lower than in previous years).

But last year was supposed to be a great year for the defense. James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, Donald Washington> and Malcolm Jenkins were all part of that defense. But maybe the missing link was the front four. That is not taking away the play of the line, a line that returned everyone but Nader Abdallah. And in Abdallah's defense, he had a career year in his final campaign at his defensive tackle position.

Even with all of that most football experts are going to agree that the key to a successful defense starts up front. When the defensive line is able to not only penetrate for pressure but also is able to lock up the offensive line, it allows the linebackers to do their assignments without locking up against 300-pounders who have the intent of blowing up the smaller backers.

"It is all about the guys around me," reigning Big Ten defensive player of the week Ross Homan said. "I can't do it alone and our great D-Line and the coaches calling the schemes for the blitzes and it is about everyone else and not about me."

Homan was recognized by the conference office with his big game, a game that netted more than a dozen tackles including a pair for loss.

"It is huge and especially this last game with Wisconsin, they have huge gigantic guys and our defensive line did a great job to keep them off of us and go sideline from sideline to scrape and make plays," Homan said.

Defensive ends like Thad Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Nathan Williams have received the notice coming off of the edge but fans know that players like Doug Worthington, Dexter Larimore[db], [db]Todd Denlinger and John Simon to name a few have stepped up to provide one of the best interior lines in several seasons for the Scarlet and Gray.

But don't believe for one second that this is some sort of one way street. Just based on guys playing Sunday's, it will be hard to compare future linebacker classes to the class of 2008, at least for a while. And the defensive line knows that the back seven, especially the two to three (defined by scheme) have just as much to do with the overall success.

"The linebackers pick us up too," Heyward said. "If we don't make the play they are making the play, and if they don't make the play we are running to make the play. So we are running hand-in-hand."

So is there some sort of symbiosis between the front four and the linebackers? Jim Tressel had a little fun with the media on Thursday when asked that question by BuckeyeGrove.

"Tons of symbiosis," Tressel joked. "That is the key, if you asked our quarterback what the key to the passing game he might say feet, he might say pre-reads, he might say whatever but I am going to tell you what it is, it is pass protection."

And moving over to defense?

"If you ask a linebacker or a secondary guy what is the key to their position they might give you the key to one of the keys to what they do but I am going to tell you that it is the symbiotic works of the defensive line."

But the staff has always talked about each unit playing 1/11th of the load so it would only seem to make sense that everyone would have to rely upon everyone else and that it is just part of the game in its purest sense.

"That is the way that this game is played, it is not flag football and it is not seven-on-seven, where that part of that is not part of the equation… it is the biggest part of the equation," Tressel said. "That is what separates this game from a lot of games. We have been fortunate and we have played well up front defensively. We have created a lot of things to help those linebackers and secondary. I am not discounting what they have done, they have done a nice job, but it all starts up front."

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