Greg Mattison was very complimentary of the defensive line as soon as he was hired as a co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State. He said it was not hard to see the level of talent the group had, saying he wanted to turn them loose as soon as he saw what they could do.
Then he saw the rest of the defense. Without having a position room to call his own, Mattison watched everyone: from co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley and the cornerbacks to Al Washington and the linebackers.
“When I look at people, I go, ‘Boy, that’s a second-teamer?’” Mattison said. “‘That’s a pretty good second-teamer.’”
With the amount of talent at his disposal, Mattison saw a way to utilize tempo, something he has embraced in his 48 years coaching football, encouraging players to go as fast and as hard as they can.
Ohio State has the ability to do that because second-and-third team players on the sideline waiting to get their opportunity and play with the same amount of energy and effort when the starter has given his all.
“That’s our deal: that we have enough depth and we have enough talent that the next guy steps up, gives you a break,” Mattison said. “It doesn’t mean you did something wrong, it means you can come back and be way, way more healthy and way more vibrant and way more energy, and then the next guy goes back in again.”
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said he had something similar this past season in the wide receiver room. He said when Parris Campbell needed a break, then-redshirt junior K.J. Hill could step up and get reps, when Terry McLaurin needed sidelined, Johnnie Dixon was there to back him up.
For Day, that’s the ideal situation for the entire team, calling it a “two-deep and a spare.” With that, he said, no matter the position, it keeps players fresh late in games and late in the season.
With the experience Mattison has, Day said this was part of the reason why he wanted him on his defensive coaching staff.
“He kind of has that mentor feel, where you look to him for advice, been around a long time, seen a lot of football, a lot of wisdom. I feel like that was important to have. He’s someone that the guys look to with a lot of respect, where he’s been, who he’s coached what he’s done,” Day said. “When he speaks, people listen.”
On the defense, Mattison highlighted the amount of depth on the defensive line and the linebacker positions as ones that could really make this approach come to life.
“When you have a really, really good defense, you don’t have a person second-team,” Mattison said. “You have a first-first team and a second-first team. And that’s how it’s going to look.”
Mattison has bought into the Ohio State football culture when it comes to tempo.
From junior defensive end Chase Young to sophomore defensive end Tyreke Smith, from redshirt junior linebacker Tuf Borland, who was also sidelined with an injury, to sophomore linebacker Teradja Mitchell, Mattison seems to have the pieces to create a defense that has one common goal.
“Our thing is to try and keep it simpler and let them play and not make it too simple, but put it in their hands more,” Mattison said.