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Published: Sunday, 8/26/2012

OSU defense also living in fast lane

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS -- Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell conjures a scenario that would make traditionalists turn in their grave.

The Buckeyes are preparing for an opponent that runs a pro-style offense when suddenly a glazed look washes over the freshmen linebackers under his watch.

"We go into the room and start doing some scout cards and, 'What do you mean a quarterback under center? What do you mean a back right behind the quarterback?'" Fickell said.

He was kidding -- sort of -- but it is an example of a little-discussed new dynamic confronting OSU.

More than the Buckeyes' offense must adjust to the no-huddle spread offense implemented by first-year coach Urban Meyer. How about the out-of-breath guys defending it?

"Hard to say yet," Fickell said on the repercussions of practicing against a new offensive style. "It's the first time going through it, so it's a different experience for me."

One dilemma is the Buckeyes' defense may not face a team this season that runs its offense at a faster pace than their own. Even in camp, OSU has at times employed offensive reserves to give the starting defense more traditional looks. (Scout teams will mimic an opponent's offense during the season.)

"Coach [Meyer] is very cognizant of that," Fickell said. "He's always asking, 'What can we give you guys, what do you need? We'll go twos-on-ones to get you guys exactly what you need.'"

On the other hand, players say defending the more open and sped-up offense will produce a better, more conditioned defense.

"I would absolutely say so, especially from a conditioning standpoint," senior defensive end John Simon said. "Even our big guys have to run around constantly, not getting breaks, not subbing in. We're definitely going to be one of the best conditioned defensive lines, best conditioned defenses in the country."

Not that the no-huddle doesn't wear them down. In the Buckeyes' last scrimmage, offensive coordinator Tom Herman said coaches "finally felt that tempo kind of take hold and affect the defense."

"Once the kids see we're snapping the ball and there's not a guy with his hand on the ground yet, holy cow, my job is a lot easier," Herman said.

BEWARE OF FREAKS: How will Meyer approach the new kickoff rules?

Depends on if the Buckeyes are facing a "freak."

Meyer, who oversees special teams, said the safety-first legislation has "completely changed" the way he will approach kickoffs. In an effort to increase touchbacks -- and decrease brain-rattling collisions -- the ball will now be booted from the 35-yard line instead of the 30 while players on kickoff coverage will no longer be permitted a 10-yard running start. They cannot start behind the 30.

The big caveat for Meyer is offenses will begin drives after touchbacks on the 25 instead of the 20. He said the Buckeyes' strategy will depend on the opponent's return man.

"If it's a freak that's a problem, kick it out of the end zone," he said. "If the 25-yard line is where they get it back, that five yards is a big difference. So if it's someone we can handle, I think we're going to try to drop it in there."

NEW TRADITION: Meyer grew emotional during the spring game when the Ohio State band belted "Hang on Sloopy," the school's unofficial rock anthem.

The Ashtabula native and former OSU graduate assistant has no plans to do away with any cornerstone traditions. But Meyer hopes to add new ones, including a plan he announced Friday to involve students in the south stands in a brief but high-energy calisthetics routine shortly before games.

"With 23 minutes to go before opening kickoff, our players along with our strength coach Mickey Marotti will address and come over in front of the student body," Meyer said in a video message emailed to students. "We're going to do the 'Quick Cals,' which is what our players do before they get ready to play a game. We ask you to join."



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