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How Ohio State DC Chris Ash's defensive scheme attacks the zone read

Chris Ash will bring an aggressive defense to Columbus. We take a deep dive into a coaches meeting to pick his brain on how he brings pressure versus the zone read.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Ash is one of the brighter young, defensive minds in college football. He has a very stern teaching method and preaches fundamentals and discipline on defense. For the majority of his career, he has been a secondary coach, but his role has expanded since 2011 when he took on defensive play calling responsibilities. I personally believe he will overtake Luke Fickell as the defensive play caller and Buckeye fans will be seeing a much more aggressive defense next season.

When watching Ash's video that talks about how he pressures versus the zone read, a couple of things stand out: He is an excellent teacher who answers questions immediately, without much over thinking; it comes naturally to him. Ash is very aggressive and loves to bring pressure, making the offense react to his defense, not the other way around. He preaches the details and even showed the other coaches in the room techniques, with the camera panning out on him showing the steps he teaches his defensive backs when blitzing.

Overall, Ash is a very serious defensive coach who seems like a great fit for the Buckeye defense. His football mind is off the charts and I see the defense getting back to where it used to be under Coach Tressel, but with a more aggressive style. Fans will be seeing complex pressure schemes that will force turnovers and a defense that tightens up in the red zone. His defense will reflect his teaching approach, they'll be fast, physical, intense and fundamentally sound.

Last season, the defense had the individual talent, but it seemed that there was too much thinking and not enough confidence in what was being coached. Ash will install a mindset into this defense where they will be so fundamentally sound and drilled in practice, that by game time there will be no thinking and just reaction. The Buckeye defense will be in good hands with Ash calling the shots .

Here are some notes on how Ash attacks the zone read offense:

  • Ash wants to bring pressure from the side of the running back, rather than having the play side defensive end react on his own after being unblocked on the zone read.
  • Out of a base or pressure defense, you have to make sure you have a dive player (nickel), quarterback player (MLB) and pitch player (SS).
  • * Note – I think Ash will bring multiple fronts to the Ohio State defense. He can run this zone blitz out of any front, whether it is a 3-4, 4-3, 3-3-5 etc. Watch five minutes of the video linked above and you'll see he has an answer for anything and everything.
  • Chase/dive player blitzes from the outside, if the QB pulls on the read, the QB player wraps around for the tackle.
  • The defensive end is reading the guard to crash the A- gap rather than sitting after being unblocked (Between the center and either guard).
  • The nickel is flying off the hip of the tackle and running through the running back's hip.
  • If the nickel is coming off of the line of scrimmage, Ash wants his inside foot back and outside foot up. Most coaches teach the opposite but he wants the nickel's first step to be at his aiming point (the running back). If his foot is opposite, he will have to take an extra step to be at his aiming point. Ash stresses the importance of this technique during the film.
  • The nickel needs to read the tackle, if the tackle is blocking in, the nickel is coming off the edge and if the tackle is blocking out, the nickel is flying through the B-gap.
  • With the Mike LB and nickel bringing pressure and the strong safety keying on the slot receiver in case of a pitch, what does the rest of the defense do? First, they will be in a three under, three deep coverage (Cover 3). Once they read run, the Will LB (weakside) and the free safety have to be alley players, meaning that they need to be filling the alley, in good position expecting a cutback. The backside defensive end has contain, as does the outside linebacker (Ash calls him the "Bronco").

What if the QB reads it correctly and keeps the ball?

  • With the nickel being the dive player, the Mike linebacker comes around the edge to stop the QB.
  • Ash notes the importance of knowing if the opposing QB if he can effectively read the blitz. If he can, (think Johnny Manziel) it's a keep every time with the defensive end crashing and the nickel blitzing the dive. If it's a quarterback who predetermines, it is likely a hand off right into the nickel blitz/crashing end.
  • With the SS having the pitch man, he has to read the "2" which is the slot receiver. If the slot WR comes out to block, the safety has to read run and attack the outside shoulder, trying to contain and funnel the QB back inside. If the slot WR is waiting on a pitch, the safety comes down to make the play.
  • If the SS attacks the 2's outside shoulder, the Will linebacker and free safety need to fill the alley for the cutback.

Ash's Coverage vs zone read

  • 3 under, 3 deep vs run (3 defensive backs, 3 deep zone) (diagrammed above)
  • 4 under, 2 deep vs pass (4 defensive backs, 2 deep zone)

vs 20/21 personnel (2 RB 3 WR) or (2 RB 2 WR 1 TE)

  • Ash quickly pointed out when facing two backs in the backfield, most teams have a dive RB and a pitch RB. He stated this was much easier to coach against because it was rather obvious what the two RB's were going to do when the ball was snapped. Think of Carlos Hyde as the Buckeye's dive RB and Dontre Wilson as the pitch RB, when both were lined up in the backfield, most of the time the play was sniffed out rather quickly.

Ash knows that he can't just run wild zone blitzes every play, they have to be calculated or you're going to get burnt. Here is a quote from Ash on the zone blitz, "zone blitzes are like snakes in the grass, you never know when one is going to come up and bite you". He is saying that a zone blitz, like the one above, needs to be called at the right time which would be third and short or a rushing down.

"You have to be careful about the number of zone blitzes that you run, so you can be sound, work on them and have option responsibilities covered". What he is saying is that he likes to call an aggressive defense but he needs to trust his defense first. They need to be drilled in practice and he needs to be able to trust every player on the field to run various zone blitz schemes. If one player is on a different page than the rest of the defense, the blitz will backfire. If the Will LB doesn't fill the alley, the QB can cut back easily for a huge gain.

As I previously said, even if you aren't a huge X's and O's person, check out the video for a few minutes to see how great of a teacher Ash is and how his football mind works at full speed.

On the next installment, we are going to take a deep dive into Ash's coverage philosophies, which after the secondary play of Ohio State in 2013, should be of particular interest to just about all OSU football aficionados.