April 10, 2008

Safety in numbers

Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman are back for a second season as starting safeties for a Buckeye team that has no shortage of returning starters or national expectations. Coleman racked up 64 tackles with two sacks and four passes defended while Russell had 63 tackles, three sacks and five passes defended. The pair of junior safeties have one year under each of their belts and two more to go starting with the 2008 season.

"Really it was Kurt and my first year playing together and as the season went on we got a chemistry playing (together) and being on the same page a lot," Russell said. "It is just rolling and growing now the more and more we are playing together."

The growth of each player is not only good news to safeties coach Paul Haynes but also to other members of the Ohio State defensive backfield who will benefit from the development of their teammates on the field.

"As a corner when you know you have a safety that knows how you are and knows what to look for you don't have to worry about him not being there and blowing coverages and things like that," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "So we can just focus on our technique and just lock down the play."

The safety tandem knows that there are still plenty of things to work on coming into their junior season to make themselves better individual players and benefit the team as a whole.

"Communicating more because we are both kind of quiet guys but we definitely have worked a lot more on communicating with the whole defense because the safeties kind of have to see everything," Russell said. "We worked on that a lot and a big thing we placed an emphasis on coming into the spring was tackling so we have been working on that a lot too."

"Right now Anderson and I are at the point where we need to make ourselves better and make our team better," Coleman said. "We have become the leaders of the safety group and we have got to keep pushing each other because we have great safeties below us they have to be ready. It is really exciting for us to be the leaders of the group."

With so many big hitters lining up at safety before them do the current Ohio State safeties feel that they have the opportunity to be the same type of big play guys?

"We definitely do, we showed it last year," Russell said. "We made a lot of plays for (the team) last year. He had some dropped interceptions too but he was always flying through the air with his. I can think of three or four that he was flying through the air getting his hands on the ball so the big play ability is definitely there between the two of us."

Outside of the obvious problems with holding on to interceptions what else do Coleman and Russell each think that the coaches would like to see out of them as they continue to develop?

"It is the little things," Coleman said. "(Coach Haynes has) said that we do the big things (well) but it is all about the little things and that is what kind of caught up to us at the end of the year. A little bit of our footwork, our alignments and making that play when we get the chance and that is what it really comes down to."

Russell played in five games during the 2006 season before an injury shut him down in the Iowa game. Coleman saw action on the special units where he still sees action on several of the return teams (not as a returner though much to his admitted disappointment). While people have had more of a chance to see what Russell can do in the secondary it is Coleman that has really only had a year to show what he can do and has caught some eyes.

"Kurt is somebody who catches on quick and he learns very fast," Jenkins said. "Last year he was kind of young but caught on to the defense really fast. This year his knowledge for the game is increasing even more and he is starting to anticipate things before they happen and he is still getting better so he is going to help us out a lot."

Experience will only make the pair better and that will go a long way for a defense that was among the nation's best last year on paper. But at risk of ripping off an old cliché, games are played on the field and not on paper.

"They have got a lot of room to grow just because of the youth and everything and I know a lot of people talk about guys coming back and things like that but the amount of football they have actually played is not a lot," Haynes said.

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