Earlier today, I had the opportunity to chat with new Rutgers head football coach Chris Ash. Prior to Ash taking the offer to fill the Scarlet Knights' vacancy, he spent two seasons at The Ohio State University, where he was co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. During his time in Columbus, he had the chance to tutor many young minds, one of those being new Saints safety Vonn Bell.
Ash was more than willing to talk, at length, about what type of player New Orleans is getting in Bell. Here are the highlights.
Jake Griffith (JG): Coach, first of all, thanks for taking time out of your busy day to sit down and talk with me.
Chris Ash (CA): Hey, no problem.
JG: I want to start with this. Vonn Bell wasn't really a name that was thrown around at the draft as one of the better defensive backs in this class, but as his coach, you got to see him in a different way than the rest of us. First off, talk about just how talented this guy is.
CA: Well, uh, to respond to your comment, I'm not not sure who wasn't throwing his name around. I talked to a lot of people about Vonn Bell as one of the top defensive backs in the draft. He had a very high draft ranking, that's why he chose to come out after his junior year. Uh, the kid's got first round talent, um, you know, there are a lot of players at Ohio St. that went in the draft. Right near the top of those players was Vonn Bell. He was a play-maker, a difference-maker for us, pound for pound, the toughest player we had on that football team. Um, you talk about a guy that, that grinded and worked hard, loved the game, you know, that was Vonn and you know, I absolutely know he's know, out of all I've coached, he's one of the best I've been around. You know, he's a guy that, as a DB, he's got coverage skills, uh, he can also play in the box. He can tackle, he's got ball skills, uh, he's got great football IQ. He's not a guy that needs a lot of reps to figure things out. Uh, he picks it up in meetings and goes out and does it and he's one of those guys that goes out and plays with a lot of energy and juice on gameday.
JG: Now, you did talk about his impact on the team. You guys were able to win a national title in 2014. Top to bottom, you had a super impressive team. Um, you had a really talented defense. A lot of times in the media, they focused on the quarterbacks, as you had the cycle with those three guys. But, how much of an impact, how instrumental, I guess you could say, do you feel like Vonn Bell was in that championship defense?
CA: Oh, he was everything. Uh, what we do, I mean, what we did defensively there at Ohio St. required us to have a safety like him who could cover and could tackle, he was the best tackler we had. Uh, he was the guy in big games, when we needed plays to be made, he would make them. An example was right down there in New Orleans when we played Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, he had a huge interception in a critical moment in the game that changed the momentum of the game and, uh, allowed us to get up and we ended up winning that game. That's just the type of player that Vonn is. But, uh, you know, we had, 2014 and 2015, we had a very powerful football team, we're all very disappointed we didn't have a chance to go play for it all again in '15. We had a very talented team, it just didn't work out, but Vonn was, uh, one of the bets players on that team and an impact guy in both seasons.
JG: You talk about that Sugar Bowl, the National Championship Game. In his time at Ohio St. you guys played in a lot of big games. How important do you feel like that is at the next level that he has that championship swagger and he has the experience playing in those big games?
CA: Well, yeah, we played in a lot of big games, every game was a big game, uh when you're at Ohio St. that last couple years,
CA: You know, going to the NFL, you're gonna play in front of big audiences, big crowds, you're gonna play on national television but guess what, you're not gonna play in front of a bigger crowd than what you did every home game. You gotta play in front of 110-108 thousand fans every home game. It doesn't get any bigger than that. Uh, the national media attention that Ohio St. got during the season, you're not gonna deal with a bigger media contingency that what you had to deal with there. To play on national television, check, he's done all that. Playing for championships and conference championships, bowl championships and national championships, to play against great teams, he's done all that. You know, so, he's been well-trained, uh, to excel in this moment, in this role for the Saints and with-out a doubt, I think he'll do it.
JG: Some draft experts, I know we talked about this earlier, um you know, they pointed, size is a big thing. Some draft experts pointed to his 5'11 height as a downside. Do you feel like he'll be able to hold his own against taller NFL receivers?
CA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the Saints just drafted [Michael] Thomas. Who do you think Vonn Bell went against in practice?
JG: That is true.
CA: He went against Mike Thomas, you know, so, he went against NFL receivers every single day at Ohio St. Uh, you know, so, he's been trained to do that. So, yeah, without a doubt. Just go look at the average height of NFL defensive backs, whether they're corners or safeties and tell me what it is. You know, there's not a lot of 6'2, 6'3 corners and safeties out there,
JG: Very true, yeah.
CA: So, you kn-, people can say that but go look at the averages of the NFL defensive backs, you know, and their size. Vonn is one of the best football players out here. He definitely has instincts, greta reaction skills and, the thing that sets him apart from others is he's a tough ass, and uh, there's not a hit he'll try to avoid, there's not a situation he's gonna be afraid of and, I think the people down there in New Orleans will figure that out quickly.
JG: Last couple of questions, coach. New Orleans, they have a new defensive coordinator this year in Dennis Allen. He went on record during rookie minicamp, saying "the best 11 guys will start." In your opinion, do we see Bell start week one? And, if not, how much of an impact do you think he makes this season for New Orleans?
CA: Well, it's hard for me to say because I-I don't know the roster there for the Saints, as well as the those other people, so I'm not sure who else he's competing against. Would I expect Vonn to play in game 1 in some capacity? Absolutely, even if it's on special teams. Vonn was one of the best special teams players at Ohio St. Uh, he just, he could not be blocked on kickoff, made all kinds of plays. So I would fully anticipate Vonn being on the field in some capacity in game 1 there for the Saints. Uh, and, whether as a DB, whether that's on special teams, I don't know because I don't know what the rest of the roster looks like. But, again, I know this. If they're truly gonna give the best 11 an opportunity to play, he's gonna go out and try to compete for one of those spots.
JG: Just how high is Vonn Bell's ceiling, in you opinion?
CA: Uh, I think it's exceptionally high, just because he's a student of the game, he's work exceptionally hard, he's dedicated to being the best that he can be and, again, he's got some things that others don't. You know, he can cover and, uh, you know, there's not a lot of safeties that can you can say can cover and, and can play in the box, and not get beat, and he can do both of those things. He's got that rare combination.
JG: Now, last one here, coach. Obviously, most Saints somewhat unfamiliar with Vonn Bell. I know I've asked you for a lot of descriptors on Bell so far, but if you can just give me a sentence or just a few words that sums up the type of player Vonn Bell is.
CA: Well, I can give it to you in one word. This guy, uh, I'll give a few descriptive words. One, juice. You know, he brings juice to the football field, he brings a lot of energy and, uh, will excite the other players around him and excite the fans. So, juice is the first thing. The second thing is just toughness. Uh, you're gonna see a tough ass kid out there playing the game. And then, you're gonna see a guy that constantly grinds to improve every single week.
JG: Hey coach, thanks again for your time. Good luck at Rutgers this season.
CA: Thank you.