- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The man-to-man plan wasn’t scrapped just because the top cover guy was missing.
Reflecting on the assignments and the play-calling, the players that were available to cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs were in one-on-one matchups over half the time in Ohio State’s first game of the season.
The ability to dial up pressure and attack the quarterback wasn’t entirely compromised, either, with Coombs quick to defend the Buckeyes as more aggressive than perhaps they appeared last weekend.
But while Ohio State has consistently stressed its next-guy-up approach and insisted its schemes don’t center around one player and his respective talents, taking arguably the best cornerback in the country out of the equation due to Bradley Roby’s suspension definitely seemed to force a little tweaking in the secondary.
“I think we were probably a little more aggressive than people think,” Coombs said. “At the same time, we weren’t all up in their face and pressing all day and trying to make sure we had enough energy to play four quarters of a football game in that heat without a whole lot of depth.”
The Buckeyes were also short a body at safety with senior C.J. Barnett a late scratch due to an ankle injury, and the absence of two starters with so much experience could understandably limit the playbook.
But it’s Roby’s ability to lockdown half of the field that truly frees up the Buckeyes to pin back their ears up front and dial up blitzes without the fear of getting beat in man coverage down the field. And while he was serving his punishment from coach Urban Meyer for an off-the-field incident at a bar in July, the shorthanded Buckeyes weren’t pushing the limit quite as often in the win over Buffalo as they figure to on Saturday against San Diego State.
“I think so, I think we all want to be a little more aggressive,” Meyer said. “We didn’t play as much bump-and-run coverage, however, we did pressure quite a bit.
“Roby coming back now frees up Armani [Reeves], who was a tremendous special teams player for us a year ago, and we had to be very cautious. He played a lot of football for us in that heat. That helps with our depth.”
The Buckeyes have seemingly gone out of their way to focus on the importance of simply having another cornerback in the fold again, regardless of Roby’s credentials or the fact that there surely isn’t a backup in the country who could block him from the starting lineup. Meyer drove his point home early in the week by bracketing Roby with Reeves in the latest depth chart and indicating he wouldn’t rush a decision about who would ultimately get the nod against the Aztecs, a team that threw the ball 64 times in their opener.
Having a healthy Barnett return to the field is critical as well for a unit that has planned all along to rely heavily on its veteran defensive backs to set the tone for the Buckeyes.
But Barnett wasn’t the guy who led the nation in passes defended last year, wasn’t the one selected as an ESPN.com first-team All-American and wasn’t the defensive back who was flirting with leaving early for the NFL draft last spring. That, of course, was Roby -- and having him back in pads can quickly change the entire complexion of the Ohio State defense.
“Last week, all week, he was in the office watching San Diego State film to prepare himself for this week,” Coombs said. “I think that football players at all levels, but certainly the great ones, they live to play the game. It’s been a long time since he’s been on the field.
“He’s excited about Saturday, I’m excited about Saturday, it’s time to go.”
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