Ron Collins treats his film sessions like a classroom. As Ohio’s defensive coordinator and safeties coach, he expects his players to be studying often and taking copious notes. Occasionally, he’ll peer into notebooks and see who’s been writing the most.
Collins provides the Bobcats with the materials necessary to be successful, but he wants them to be proactive in furthering themselves as players. The Bobcats can’t learn if they don’t study.
“They all have expectations of what we want from them coming in,” Collins said. “Those guys dive into the notebook and study the playbook with the corresponding film that we provide for them. It's like a classroom in there a lot.”
The Bobcats, especially the safeties, have poured over their notes. This season, the work might pay off.
Of the 10 safeties on Ohio’s roster, only two are true freshmen. All of Ohio’s returning safeties have been given playtime before. That means a vast majority have past material to improve from.
Collins is excited to see the safeties grow this season. A unit with a majority of upperclassmen who have all seen playtime gives Collins an opportunity to pull material from farther back in his notebook. Some of the older safeties have even memorized the playbook almost as well as Collins.
“It's really let us really open up the defensive notebook, and we've been able to not only run what we've done in the past, but we've been able to add things because of their experience,” Collins said. “That's the biggest thing about these older guys, is they've got all our base calls down as well as I do. I mean, they can get out there and teach it.”
It’s experience Ohio needs.
The Bobcats will be lining up against one of the top receivers in the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday. Taj Harris has been one of Syracuse’s premier receivers in his first three seasons. He recorded 733 receiving yards last season, the eighth-most in the ACC and 35th overall in the NCAA.
Harris is a threat Ohio needs to clamp down on, and it has kept a close eye on him.
“We'll have to do our best to contain him,“ coach Tim Albin said during his Monday press conference. “There’s no way we're going to shut him out. That's not going to happen. But we're gonna have to do a good job of mixing it up with them.”
Containing Syracuse’s passing game is a must. Ohio may not lock it down completely, but it may be able to force an interception or two to get Syracuse’s offense off the field.
The Bobcats have been focused on generating more interceptions for the past two seasons. In 2019, the Bobcats were ranked 10th in the Mid-American Conference with only five interceptions. They only generated five last season as well, but those interceptions occurred in just three games.
Even after only playing half of its six-game schedule last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio showed a glimpse of how many turnovers it can produce. It ranked fourth in the MAC in interceptions, a vast improvement in just one season.
Ohio might be able to further its success with interceptions this weekend. Last season’s leader in interceptions, Jett Elad, is predicted to only improve in 2021.
Elad experienced his breakout year last season and showcased his utility on the field. He’s found his role as a dependable nickelback with innate knowledge of the field.
“He fits the mold skill set-wise,” Collins said. “He's tough, good hands. He makes a lot of plays. So, we're expecting a lot of things out of him. And you know his biggest thing is in his progression is just really getting his details down, his technique and his fundamentals, and he's working on that.”
The Bobcats can only improve by learning what worked last season and what didn’t before. Success springs from learning from the past and knowing what needs to be improved. Collins wants the Bobcats to have the playbook memorized so that they can springboard off last season. If the Bobcats have the material memorized, a promising season is sure to follow.