Ohio State getting set to unveil ‘evolving’ defense at Indiana

Jim Knowles is probably ready for the college football offseason to end officially this weekend.

The Ohio State defensive coordinator was a big part of the conversation throughout the offseason for a second straight year, but this time the tone was different.

After being hailed as a potential savior when he was hired away from Oklahoma State a year ago, he was more of a whipping boy this winter and spring for Buckeye fans angry at how his defense broke down in the two biggest games of the season.

What did Knowles learn along the way?

Plenty.

“I’m ever evolving,” said Knowles, 58. “I want to be. Always hard looks. Always sleepless nights trying to figure out how to be better. It’s what I’m committed to because I want our players to be committed to being better. So yeah, the evolving nature comes from, ‘Okay, we did not do we had to do in those matchup games.’ So how do we evolve the defense to stay aggressive and continue to win on third downs but also have plans in place to prevent the explosive plays?’ So it’s always evolving.”

He did not offer any specifics, but defensive back deployment might offer some clues.

Instead of playing five true defensive backs, Ohio State looks like it is set to have a base defense with two cornerbacks, two deep safeties and a hybrid player in Sonny Styles.

A sophomore from Pickerington, Styles could be a super-sized safety or a super-athletic linebacker, but he figures to be on the field most of the time even in different packages.

Knowles confirmed the team is likely to have a package with two safeties and three cornerbacks, for passing situations, and the “Jack” package remains an option if he wants to play games with the front seven.

No matter what Knowles calls, though, most of the players being in their second season in the scheme should also make a difference.

“The more someone understands the complete system rather than just an individual position and they realize how all 11 parts work together really helps,” Knowles said.

“I think a lot of times you see a guy not playing at full speed and it’s easy to wonder, ‘Is he not motivated? Or does he not know what he’s doing?’ And I think coaches need to take responsibility for that. If a guy knows what he’s doing, he can play fast. If he doesn’t, he plays tentative. That’s a reflection of coaching.”

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