Buckeyes' Bryant must walk a fine line

Ohio State safety Christian Bryant (2) doesn't plan to change his game too much despite the new targeting rules. Greg Bartram/US Presswire

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Christian Bryant didn’t need to go back to watch any video to know there was at least one hit on his highlight reel that could get him in trouble if he delivered another one like it.

“Maybe Michigan State,” the Ohio State senior said last week. “That’s the only one I can think of.”

If there are more, the Buckeyes are certainly going to find them and point them out to their physical safety because the penalty is now much more severe than just walking off 15 yards and moving on after a personal foul.

Under the new targeting rules that can lead to an instant ejection -- even for a first-time offense for helmet-to-helmet contact -- managing Bryant’s trademark violence will be near the top of the priority list for Ohio State as it reports for the start of training camp on Sunday. The coaching staff settled in for a retreat over the weekend to analyze the impact of the new rule. The difficulty is finding the line between allowing Bryant to keep playing with his amped-up aggression despite the threat of an early visit to the showers.

“I’ve put some time aside to discuss the targeting rule and how we teach,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days last week. “There was some videotape where I’m not sure you can stop a guy. Both guys are going after a ball and the guy said that was going to be an ejection. We said to the official, ‘You can’t teach [avoiding that].’

“I do agree with this, you go into someone with the intent of [helmet-to-helmet contact], he’s out. That guy right over there, Christian Bryant, we have to really work with him, because he’s got to play with [his head up].”

The Buckeyes have plenty of video with Bryant doing just that, and Meyer pointed to an attempt at a knockout of Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead two years ago as the perfect example. Bryant missed that big shot and allowed Burkhead to scoot into the end zone, but fundamental improvements a year ago with his posture and improved body control cut down on those mistakes on the way to 71 tackles -- the second-best total on the team.

Not all of those hits were perfectly clean, of course, with Bryant the first to admit he could have been in jeopardy on the road in a tightly-contested game with Michigan State. And while he’s aware of the stakes with officials having been instructed to err on the side of safety this season, Bryant doesn’t have any plans to change his approach.

“Each and every play, especially on defense, I feel like you have to play with reckless abandon,” Bryant said. “You have to run around reckless, be fearless. Throughout the game, you’re not really thinking about helmet-to-helmet contact and that you’ll get ejected, but this year you really have to stay aware throughout the whole game just so you don’t make those type of mistakes.

“I think [ejection] is a little too severe. Just because they can’t fine us, I feel like that’s why they picked out this ejection rule. ... It seems like each and every year there’s kind of a physicality they’re trying to take away from football, but it’s not really going to slow me down.”

The officials do have the power to bring him to a complete stop, though, and that message is likely to be reinforced by the coaching staff throughout August, given how important Bryant is to the defense as a whole.

His experience in the secondary, a veteran presence that has enabled him to take on a leadership role, a knack for finding the football and his hand in creating critical turnovers are all more valuable than any single bone-rattling hit. But, obviously, as long as they’re legal and don’t test the one-strike-and-he’s-out policy, the Buckeyes will take all of those collisions they can get.

“I’m not going to really change my style of play just because of the rule changing,” Bryant said. “I’m a physical player, and that’s what I feel like I bring to the table for the team.”

The key is making sure he’s got a seat there for the full 60 minutes.