The Ohio State Buckeyes have officially moved into the next era on the defensive side of the ball, bringing in an entire new staff outside of Larry Johnson. Two of those key additions were Perry Eliano from the Cincinnati Bearcats and Tim Walton from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Eliano will have the title of safeties coach ,and Walton will be the secondary/corners coach.
Both have a track record of sustained success and have coached multiple successful defensive backs. The resumes truly speak for themselves, but the pair have coached the likes of Jalen Ramsey, Sauce Gardner, and Antrel Rolle, all while being apart of staffs who have reached the pinnacle of the sport.
With Kerry Coombs out, his track record of first round picks and high level recruiting leave a lot to be desired from his replacements. But today, we are going to see why the two men hired are talented enough to do the job they were hired to do.
Safety play under Eliano
For all the talk about the Cincinnati secondary in 2021, most of the conversation revolved around corners Coby Bryant and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. As good as they were, a lot of what they were able to do came from having trust in their safeties to help them out. A huge problem the Buckeyes have had the past two seasons is inconsistent play from the safety position. Now, Eliano’s job will be to maximize three players every time they step on the field, and he is going to have some versatile players who will be able to explode under his tutelage.
The first play we are going to look at is Cincinnati running a Cover-4 against Houston in their own half. Cincinnati lines up with the free safety to the bottom, showing he is the middle-high defender, the strong safety to the single receiver side is rolled down. This is a huge part in how Cincinnati’s pass coverage was so successful. By doing this, it changes what the quarterback reads pre-snap.
After the initial read to the play side wasn’t there for the Houston quarterback, the tight end (No. 87) continues his route across the formation. At this point, the safety and corner to the single receiver side have taken the receiver who runs vertically. The cornerback is able to maintain his leverage and take the receiver, allowing the safety to come off and find any shallow crossers. The safety is not only disciplined in his initial coverage responsibility, but Ohio State has had issues with secondary coverage responsibilities, meaning when no one is present in their zone, the defender does not find work.
We see here how Eliano’s safety is not only solid in his initial coverage, but even better when he finds work to make a huge play.
As we move forward, we are taking a look at the safety play in the red zone in Cincinnati’s matchup against Notre Dame. Cincinnati’s defense plays this near perfect, and the secondary gets help from the pressure from the defensive line. The reason the defensive backs are successful on this play is because of their organization.
Notre Dame motions a receiver across the formation, which leads to Cincinnati checking their coverage. Notre Dame tries to attack the short side of the field, but Cincinnati stays true to their assignments in the check and have all three levels covered. The free safety for Cincinnati has the back of the end zone, the corner has the middle area, allowing him to make the play on the ball, and the linebacker is able to take care of the flat route. All this shows the level of discipline in coverage Eliano is bringing, and all three defensive backs in the area were in position to make a play.
Tim Walton’s secondary
Not to age Tim Walton, but when he started his coaching career I was still a year away from being born. Over those 27 years, the former Ohio State Buckeye has developed college players into NFL draft picks and has developed NFL players into All-Pros. After his hiring, Jalen Ramsey was quoted as saying, “Coach Walton, he’s probably one of the best DB coaches, if not the best DB coach I’ve ever had in my life.”
Walton will be bringing this level of knowledge and development to a position group that needs to be maximized if the Buckeyes want to win a National Championship. As the replacement to Kerry Coombs, who excelled in developing defensive backs – but struggled in his defensive coordinator role – Walton will be expected to live up to a lofty standard.
For Walton, he was responsible for part of the development of Jalen Ramsey into an All-Pro cornerback. Using his NFL protege as an example to show some of the key teachings of Walton might lead to some extremely high expectations, but I want to preface this with there not any college corners with the skill level of Ramsey.
In the first play watching the Jaguars play the Buccaneers in 2019, the only season in which Walton and Ramsey overlapped. The first play we’re going to see Ramsey in the cover safety/nickelback role, responsible for covering the tight end. Tampa Bay decides to attack this match up in the run game, with his man responsibility his initial step takes him with the down block by Tampa Bay’s tight end.
Ramsey trusts his coaching and recovers by beating the puller to set the edge, becoming the contain player. After he regains position, he fights through a block and makes a huge play in the backfield. We see a tough defensive back who understands all of his responsibilities in a given play. That is what Walton is bringing to the table.
The next play we’re going to see textbook coverage by Ramsey, and I once again want to preface this by saying Ohio State’s corners are not Jalen Ramsey. As we see the Tennessee Titans line up, we get a look at how Walton’s defenders defend a condensed coverage.
The nickelback and cornerback in Ramsey work in unison with a “Banjo Coverage”, a term used to identify two defenders who switch coverage responsibilities. The inside defender takes whichever route comes inward, and the corner takes whichever route comes out. In this scenario, the receivers switch sides and Ramsey is responsible for the inside receiver. He maintains his leverage and the receiver is not able to stack Ramsey, leading to him having a great read on the route. Once the receiver breaks on his out route, Ramsey jumps the route for an interception to the house.
This plays shows two things: Walton will have Ohio State defenders ready to defend condensed formations, and his corners won’t be way off the ball when it is caught.
Since not every corner is Jalen Ramsey, I looked through a few games from this Jaguars team from the past season to see if I could find anything of note. This next play is not sexy, but it shows discipline, toughness, and responsibility football.
The Houston Texans have 3rd-and-12 and are in an obvious passing situation. In the NFL, this is usually an automatic quarters call to keep everything in front of the defenders. We’re watching the corner (No. 32) to the top of the screen. The first receiver pushes up vertical and runs an in breaking route. The corner back pedals, but once the receiver breaks in he doesn’t chase him. This is a major issue with college corners — the obsession with making a play sometimes leads to missed assignments.
By staying true to his zone, he knows he has help on any in breaking route, therefore he can now move his eyes to a secondary responsibility. Houston completes a short pass, but because of the discipline in coverage, the Jaguars make a play and stop the Texans short of the line to gain.
As we enter deeper into the offseason, we’re going to continue to have a lot of fun stuff to look at. The new defensive backs coach will have a lot to live up to, but both Tim Walton and Perry Eliano have shown in recent years they have all the makings of successful coaches. Eliano built one of the more outstanding secondaries in the country, and Walton has developed countless NFL stars in his career.
Today we took a look at how the two coaches have created tough, disciplined secondaries. At Ohio State, the standard brought in by Kerry Coombs was “Best In America.” His second stint fell short, and these two men will be tasked with getting the Buckeyes back to that prominence. For this team, it starts with fundamentals and this staff coaches those necessary fundamentals at an extremely high level. Now it’s time for them to help this Ohio State secondary do the same.