Western Michigan’s Daniel Braverman makes a catch in Ohio’s game against Western Michigan on Oct. 17 at Peden Stadium. The Bobcats lost 49-14. (FILE)
Ohio’s front seven — its defensive linemen and linebackers — are considered to be the strength of the defense this season.
The secondary, however, are seen as inexperienced, and the depth chart is murky.
Despite free safety Toran Davis being the only returning starter, he isn’t using the unit’s inexperience as an excuse for low-level performance.
“The secondary is the strongest part of our defense,” Davis said emphatically at Ohio’s media day Aug. 8. “Everybody is looking on the outside in saying that we don’t have experience. Just because you don’t have experience doesn’t mean your talent level is any good. I think we’re just as good as the front seven if you ask me.”
Davis, a redshirt senior, is one of the more experienced players in the secondary. Last season, Davis totaled 59 tackles, ranking third on the team. Davis also had two pass breakups and one forced fumble.
Younger players like cornerback London Miller look up to Davis. They ask him questions about what to do on certain plays.
Despite the unit’s youth, they’re ready to show why the defense will have to rely on the front seven.
“Everybody’s ready to prove to everybody that we’re here, too,” Davis said.
But inexperience doesn’t mean lack of talent.
Defensive coordinator Jim Burrow has options other than Davis at safety. Kylan Nelson, Jovan Hagan and Bo Hardy are just some of the players at the position who could see playing time.
“What might have started out as an inexperienced group, and is, I think the depth with those guys is going to end up being good,” Burrow said of the safeties.
Despite losing a key cornerback in Langston Provitt during the spring because of head-related injury concerns, the cornerbacks aren’t searching for talent, either. With Miller, Randy Stites, Jalen Fox and Mayne Williams highlighting the crew, the cornerbacks have depth that should serve them well.
Williams redshirted last season as a safety, but he has cornerback skills, Burrow said.
“If we started a game today, we would have to sit down and probably have a good conversation about who’s going to start,” Burrow said about the cornerbacks at media day.
The cornerbacks are also seeing multiple formations from the team’s offense, which will only help them improve as the season goes on.
This season, the Bobcats are planning to use multiple offensive schemes.
They could occasionally use three wide receivers and one tight end. The Bobcats’ depth at the running back position allows them to use multiple halfbacks on the field as well.
“They’re getting exposed to a lot,” coach Frank Solich said. “So I think in the long run that will end up helping them.”
So if the secondary has talent and depth, what makes Davis say they’re just as good, if not better than the front seven?
For Davis, and even the rest of the defense, a competitive nature is the reason for this claim.
“Everybody’s trying hard to get their plays,” Davis said. “I mean, it’s competitive like corners, safeties, linebackers, defensive linemen, all of us trying to get the plays. It’s building that competition within everybody.”
With the defense competing for “mad plays,” which is what the team calls their solid plays, it only gets better as a unit. With each player doing their job on the field, it makes for a solid, all-around defense.
Last season, the team had 12 interceptions and returned them for 230 yards. This year, the defense wants to be more aggressive as a whole, emphasizing attacking and reacting to the opposing offense.
The front seven consists of players like defensive lineman Tarell Basham, linebacker Quentin Poling and linebacker Blair Brown. The front seven is loaded in terms of being one of the team’s strengths.
But the secondary is ready to do their part, too. They’re ready to prove why they aren’t the front seven’s Robin, why the two units are on equal footing.
“We’re part of a big impact on our defense as well, and while the experience might not be there, the talent’s high,” Davis said. “You can’t question that.”