Dave Thurman (2:27 pm)
One of the most outstanding characteristics of the 2002 Silver Bullet defense was their swagger. Guys like Will Smith, Mike Doss, Chris Gamble, and Matt Wilhelm walked into the stadium with an air about them that said, "We're bad, we know it, and you can't do anything about it!" Call it confidence, cockiness, or whatever you want, but that team knew they were good and they dared the opposition to move the ball on them. The offense was often unreliable during that National Championship run, because Maurice Clarett was hurt so often, and Craig Krenzel, for all of his moxie and leadership, possessed a very average arm. So the defense took it upon themselves to make big plays, and keep the other team from scoring. It was as if they took it personally when an opponent dented the end zone.
Move ahead to the past couple of years, and the one thing I see missing from the defense, more than any other, is that swagger. We've had some great individual players like Gholston, Laurinaitis, and Jenkins, but I don't see that "take no prisoners" attitude. I think we play on our heels most of the time, waiting for the other team to make a mistake, instead of forcing errors on their part. We hope they will self destruct, and too often it doesn't happen.
Now to be fair, our defensive line is simply not as talented as that 2002 group. I'm not sure if it's lousy recruiting or poor player development or both, but this is one of the weakest defensive lines I have seen in many years. I have a hard time believing that a good coach couldn't get better results, but I also have come to the conclusion that this group isn't as talented as the D-line that helped win OSU a national title.
However, on paper, our back seven this year is as talented as any team in the nation. So why aren't they playing better? Why do they struggle to stop people on third down? How come they miss so many tackles? Above all, I think they lack that intangible I am calling "swagger." They don't have meanness, the "go for the juggler" mentality, the "in your face" confidence that is needed. Every so often I see a glimpse of it from Malcolm Jenkins, and I think Jermale Hines and Kurt Coleman are close. But by and large I see guys who lack aggressiveness and self-confidence. That is particularly true with the linebackers. While Baby Animal is a great talent, the one thing I would like to see from him is more attitude. And he's by far the best we've got. Freeman plays scared half the time, and simply doesn't hit people with bad intentions. I had high hopes from Homan, but he looks a little slow and unsure out there. When is the last time you saw him deliver a blow that rattled someone's teeth? Honestly, I'm suprised we haven't seen more of Brian Rolle because he seems to have that killer instinct the others lack. And rest assured linebackers need both toughness and attitude. More than any other position they are supposed to be mean and fearless. Look at some film of Spielman, Katzenmoyer or Hawk. Go back in the NFL archives and watch Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert and Mike Singletary. Linebackers are supposed to have a mean streak on the field. I just don't see that with this group, and I think that is part of the problem. They need to regain that swagger.
Of course, at the end of the day, it comes down to coaching. Many are calling for Heacock's head, and I think the time has come to consider such drastic action. Our defense isn't aggressive enough, and good players are not making good plays. I believe a fiery, in your face coach, with a "take no prisoners" attitude could wake up this defense. I believe a new approach would lead to more sacks, more big plays, and a more intimidating presence. There was a time when teams feared facing the OSU defense. It's time to restore that sense of dread and panic. I for one am ready for some old-school swagger. How about you?