Ohio State safeties coach and special teams coordinator Matt Barnes spoke with reporters on Wednesday, as did safeties Josh Proctor and Marcus Hooker, along with kicker Blake Haubeil and punter Drue Chrisman.
Here are the highlights of everything that was said during the teleconference.
— Barnes: Proctor and Hooker are outstanding players with different skill sets, which is a good thing. This allows them to be more multiple and play them in different spots. They are both playing at a high level.
— Barnes: “We’re really running the same defense” as last year. “We’re really not a split safety team.” “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
— Barnes: Hooker is a true centerfielder. Rangy. Instinctive. Freakish ball skills. He tracks the ball well and does well in the run game. Proctor can play closer to the box and can play man-to-man coverage. They both can do both.
— Barnes: He wasn’t here when Malik Hooker was here, but his understanding is that there are similarities. He’s not the best person to ask though.
— Barnes: It’s critical that there aren’t too many voices in the secondary in terms of coaches. Kerry Coombs runs the room and Barnes assists him as best as he can. Everyone is one the same page. Corners and safeties all meet together and there is one voice at the front of the room.
— Barnes: The big thing for Josh Proctor is consistency. He’s got great talent and potential. He has made outstanding plays, but the big thing is showing up every day and getting all of the details right.
— Barnes: “I thought as highly of Jordan [Fuller] as I’ve ever thought of any player.” He was the quarterback of the defense. He would see things on the field that the coaches wouldn’t see or wouldn’t see as fast as he would. “He is just a brilliant, brilliant mind.” Replacing him starts with players who know their jobs through and through, “and that’s the piece that we’ve got to continue to develop with these newer players.”
— Barnes: The battle to replace Liam McCullough at long-snapper is ongoing. Right now Bradley Robinson is the starting long-snapper.
— Barnes: Any time you have players who can be versatile and do different things, you have to find ways to get them on the field. And that goes for playing two safeties at the same time. “Some of those things will be situational and based on the offensive personnel on the field.”
— Barnes: There are a number of guys they are trying out at returner. COVID has changed their mindsets on depth charts and having more guys who can play. Garrett Wilson, Demario McCall, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Cameron Martinez, Xavier Johnson, and Chris Olave are some of the names involved.
— Barnes: Blake Haubeil hones his craft but is still very coachable. He also helps the other specialists. “Blake’s been very steady.” Expect more of the same. They would like to see more consistency on his kickoffs.
— Barnes: He is comfortable at Ohio State in every way in year two. It’s really hard to coach players the way they should be coached without any pre-existing relationships. You have to find out what makes the players tick before you can get the most out of them. The biggest difference between Ohio State and other places he’s been is the culture at OSU. It’s significantly better than any place he’s ever been, and that starts with the head coach.
— Barnes: When it comes to physical talent, Hooker and Proctor have no shortages there. Now it comes down to film work. It’s not always the fastest guy or the best athlete, it’s the best guy that plays the game. It’s football IQ. Proctor and Hooker are very good players but there is no substitute for experience. Those guys have done a good job, but they’re looking for more cosnistency.
— Barnes: A number of cornerbacks have been making noise. The freshmen have all done well. Lejond Cavazos before he got hurt was doing really well. Ryan Watts has been banged up too. Tyreke Johnson has played a bunch of snaps opposite Shaun Wade. Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks are elite. It’s a really good group.
— Barnes: “I’m a complete football nerd.” He watches a lot of football. “I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t know that I’ve had an original idea yet.” But he’s seen some things that he can fit into what Ohio State does.
— Barnes: They have used these early games to see where mistakes are being made and coaching those issues up. “I think that’s smart coaching.”
— Barnes: This is an electric receiving corps and the best offensive line in college football. On the receivers, there aren’t any that are average. “I’ve never seen a receiving corps anywhere even close to resembling the amount of speed and talent that these guys have.”
— Barnes: Even with the departure of Jordan Fuller, there are no changes in expectations. The players aspire to be similar to him but you have to play to your own strengths and be realistic about your weaknesses so that you can marginalize them.
— Barnes: Bradley Robinson has been the most consistent long-snapper during practice. He charts the snaps during punt periods. Those are critical times in evaluating those snappers.
— Barnes: Kourt Williams is a great kid but Barnes declined to speak on where Williams is playing right now.
— Barnes: If you get to know Cam Martinez you wouldn’t be surprised by anything he does. “I think he is a legit tough guy.” He makes mistakes but fixes them quickly. He asks for help. So does Lathan Ransom. There are Zoom calls and constant texts.
— Barnes: The freshman receivers all bring something to the table on special teams. Mookie Cooper can help as a returner, but he’s a physical guy as well. Gee Scott plays like a linebacker, “and I mean that in a good way.” He can cover kicks. Julian Fleming can really run and be a coverage guy or gunner. Jaxon Smith-Njigba “is just so smooth and has unbelievable ball skills.”
— Barnes: This is a very driven group with great senior leadership. There are a ton of guys who have played a lot of football. Jonathon Cooper is a great leader. Tuf Borland, Pete Werner, Shaun Wade as well. Offensively, there are leaders as well. “I think it’s a hungry crew.” “That Clemson loss is never too far from anyone in this program’s mind.”
— Hooker: He looked at the offseason as a way for him to grow academically and physically and to maximize himself for this team. Guys were pushing him and telling him that he had a chance to play a big role this year.
— Hooker: The most important advice he’s gotten from his brother is to just stay focused and use each day as a way to improve, whether it was a good day or bad day.
— Hooker: Josh Proctor does things that Hooker doesn’t. He’s bigger and he’s a physical guy. But Hooker also does things that Proctor can’t do.
— Hooker: On replacing Jordan Fuller, it requires a lot of film work and being attentive in class work. The details in film work is crucial.
— Hooker: It’s been a blast having Kerry Coombs in the room even though they do get yelled at a bit. Coombs and Barnes have great minds. They are always trying to get more out of the players and they always manage to get more out of them.
— Hooker: He is more detailed this year. Last year he wasn’t as consistent as he is now. He’s still working to being the player he knows he can be.
— Hooker: They don’t worry about a rotation at safety. They just play ball. He and Proctor are very close friends. They have shadowed each other since they got to Ohio State. They bring out the best in each other. Proctor has helped him out many times and would tell him not to dwell on mistakes.
— Hooker: It doesn’t matter who starts because more than one player will play.
— Hooker: His mindset at safety is “getting the ball.” They want a bunch of turnovers. He can tackle and things like that, but he’s focused on getting the ball any way he can and helping the offense score points.
— Hooker: Matt Barnes has a spark to him. “He just makes me smile whenever he talks to me.”
— Hooker: There is a standard at Ohio State that players have to live up to. “If you love something, you wouldn’t want to ruin that.”
— Hooker: There are a lot of great receivers on this team. It doesn’t matter who you go up against. He works against Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Sam Wiglusz a lot.
— Hooker: The most important thing he learned from Jordan Fuller is just to bring the ball down whenever it’s in front of you. Making the open field tackle whenever that situation happens.
— Hooker: He and his brother stay in contact as much as they can. Their schedules don’t really align, but they do what they can. They talk 2-3 times a week. “He’s making sure I’m straight so I’m not stressing myself out about anything.”
— Hooker: Walk-on receiver Sam Wiglusz has everything anybody else in that receiving corps has. There are a lot of people who contribute to the success of this program and Sam is one of them. He always gives the defense great looks.
— Proctor: He and Hooker have both improved mentally and have become leaders on the defense. They are trying to bring the young guys along because they’re going to need them.
— Proctor: What is the biggest leap he’s made from last year to now? Just being a quarterback like Jordan Fuller was. Communicating with the corners and getting the defense lined up.
— Proctor: The plays he messed up against Clemson has motivated him. He has watched more film.
— Proctor: He is working on consistency. Barnes wants him to calm down and relax and read the plays and not get so jittery.
— Proctor: Anywhere he is needed he will learn and play. Whatever the coaches want from him.
— Proctor: He watches the Clemson game “quite a bit.” It’s a motivator. He wasn’t as focused on the little details last year.
— Proctor: He doesn’t see any differences between him and Hooker as players. They are both rangy and smart and instinctual.
— Proctor: Kerry Coombs brings a lot of energy and it’s fun. He comes from the NFL and knows what it takes to get to that next level.
— Proctor: Barnes and Coombs are both exciting guys.
— Proctor: He wants his name to be a household name. He can make that happen by being more consistent.
— Proctor: “I’m a physical guy. I like being physical. I don’t care how big you are, so I think that’s what I like about being down there” in the box. It was new to him because he had always been a deep safety before.
— Proctor: His relationship with Barnes grew last year after Proctor was sick and Barnes stopped by his house to check in on him.
— Chrisman: The elephant in the special teams room has been replacing Liam McCullough. Brad Robinson and Roen McCullough have been able to do a bunch of one-on-ones during the offseason. They would find open fields to work when they couldn’t be at OSU. They would sometimes hop fences at high schools. He and Brad worked together more this offseason than he and Liam used to.
— Chrisman: He’s had some great gunners. Denzel Ward was great, then Terry McLaurin came and he’s probably the best. “He saved me a lot of times.” It’s a role that guys take a lot of pride in. Chris Olave will still be doing it. Josh Proctor is doing it some as well.
— Chrisman: It’s been great being married. It’s been kind of like a long honeymoon. It’s living with your best friend. He’ll sneak her a to-go meal from the Woody every now and again.
— Chrisman: He doesn’t think he’s missing out much on the NIL because he knows Ohio State has given him a stage that he probably wouldn’t have gotten on his own.
— Chrisman: “We just want to be the best punt team in America.” It’s the punt team as a whole. Net punting is what he looks at because that’s what impacts the game. Kicking and coverage is hand-in-hand.
— Chrisman: On the bottle flipping: “I still got it.” Every now and then somebody on the team will challenge him and he has to assert his dominance.
— Chrisman: He got into a good routine this offseason. He would kick and lift two or three times a week. “My legs feel good. I feel strong.”
— Chrisman: The coaches are showing them all of the special teams mistakes happening right now in college football. They are aware of them. As long as this team continues to do what they’ve done in the past, he doesn’t expect too many special teams errors.
— Chrisman: You have to have a good relationship with your long-snapper because if you’re not on the same page, bad things are going to happen.
— Chrisman: There could maybe be locker room issues when certain guys get more with the NIL than other guys, but it may not be any different than the attention guys get already. But there may need to be some regulation put in place to keep locker room issues from happening. It could change the college landscape forever.
— Chrisman: Brad Robinson is more chill than the McCulloughs. He likes the weight room, which Chrisman likes. “I think he’s going to be great.”
— Chrisman: He feels comfortable that the players are safe, especially with the daily testing. They go above and beyond at Ohio State as evidenced by Chrisman wearing a mask for a Zoom call.
— Haubeil: He has been working on being as consistent as possible. You’re only as good as your routine.
— Haubeil: They are going to miss Liam McCullough a lot. Brad Robinson is his roommate. He’s always watching film.
— Haubeil: Barnes is an excellent coach with so much special teams knowledge. Barnes was striving last year to build relationships and told all of his players to call him if they need anything, football or not. “I feel like I can go to him about anything.”
— Haubeil: When did he fall in love with kicking? He was about 11 years old with his dad and they went out to a field to do some kicking. His dad was a good kicker and Blake thought he could do it too. He was kicking extra points in fifth and sixth-grade football when most teams don’t have kickers.
— Haubeil: It was very interesting kicking in the Shoe a few times this year. It doesn’t change a bunch of what he does, but he will miss having fans in the stands. “I want them to know we’re going to play for them this year.” It will be a lot different on the road as well, especially at Penn State.
— Haubeil: Regarding returning next year? They’ll look at that after the year. Right now he’s focused on 2020.
— Haubeil: On freshman Jake Seibert, he’s constantly looking at film and wants to get better. He gets great lift on his kicks. Haubeil is more than happy to help him with anything he might need. The future of kickers at Ohio State is bright.
— Haubeil: Being from Buffalo has taught him a lot about kicking in bad conditions, which may come into play when the Buckeyes are playing in December this year.
— Haubeil: One or two days a week he will work on different onside kicks. He’s got about seven or eight different kicks he can do.