The ability to replace Jordan Fuller at free safety last year was always going to be one of the biggest issues for this team and that proved to be the case for most of the season. The Buckeyes were able to get away with it because of their offense and other aspects of their defense, but they can’t go through another season with the last line of their defense being so unpredictable. Everybody could return from last year’s group (depending on Marcus Hooker’s legal situation) but last year’s group would need to step it up this year if the Buckeyes are going to be what they’re expected to be. The good news this year is that the younger players should have a full spring of learning and growing, as well as the standard summer and fall camp. New blood is going to help this group and maybe get them where they need to be.
Spring Depth Chart
41 Josh Proctor (Sr)
17 Bryson Shaw (rSoph)
24 Jantzen Dunn (Fr)
12 Lathan Ransom (Soph) OR
21 Marcus Williamson (Sr)
14 Ronnie Hickman (rSoph)
- Can Josh Proctor handle being the deep safety?
- How will Lathan Ransom progress this spring?
- Can somebody new make some noise?
There are six guys here now who can play safety and that’s without Marcus Hooker (who is suspended) and Kourt Williams (who is injured). That is much better than what they had at the end of last season when numbers were bad and experience was worse. Secondary coach Matt Barnes takes over the entire defensive back room and he’ll have his hands full with questions that need to be answered. Those answers are starting to get jotted down as Josh Proctor opened at free safety in the first practice. Lathan Ransom was at the cover safety spot, which is the position-formerly-known as the slot corner. Expect him and Marcus Williamson to contend for that spot together. Proctor should be solid enough that the only battle at that spot will be to back him up.
What Needs to Happen
Josh Proctor needs to realize his full potential and become some reasonable combination of Jordan Fuller and Malik Hooker. This may not actually be a reasonable expectation, but that’s what the job as the deep safety in a one-high defense requires. Either make plays on the ball like Malik Hooker or make sure nobody gets past you like Jordan Fuller. Anything in between that and you start to remove the “safe” part of “safety.” Can this happen in the spring? Proctor is enough of a vet at this point to at least have the question answered about whether this is his spot or if he should be somewhere else. Either way, the Buckeyes need him at his best from now until mid-January. Lathan Ransom also needs to continue his trajectory. He came on late last season in a difficult year for all freshmen. Now a sophomore, let’s see what a full spring does for him. It could be something very, very good.
The worst-case scenario here is that nothing changes and everything still happens just as it did last year. But the good news is that you still make the national title game and you no longer have to worry about Devonta Smith. So much of this would seem to hinge on Josh Proctor and his ability to handle the free safety spot. If that’s an issue, then you’re looking at Bryson Shaw or a true freshman Jantzen Dunn. Or you move one of the cover safeties to deep safety and now you’re stuck in exploratory mode. Head coach Ryan Day said the most important thing for this spring is to simply have practices and create film for everybody so that decisions can be made. The safeties need the reps and the coaches will need the film.
Keep An Eye On
Freshman Jantzen Dunn is a special athlete and enrolling early should be a huge benefit toward playing time this season. He is wearing the No. 24 and his high school highlights resemble a former 24 named Malik Hooker who roamed the backfield five years ago. Dunn is listed at 6-foot-2 and 178 pounds, but he’s likely heavier than that now that he’s been with Mickey Marotti for three months. Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes want their safeties to be versatile and able to play multiple positions. Dunn is that kind of athlete. He just needs the time and the reps. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him win the backup free safety job this fall like Jordan Fuller and Josh Proctor did as true freshmen.
One Last Thing
Kourt Williams isn’t listed in the depth chart above because he’s still recovering from ACL surgery last fall. It was interesting when Ryan Day said last week that they have a plan for him at safety this year. He won’t be taking part in any contact drills but could be doing some individual stuff by the end of camp. There were questions about whether he would grow into a linebacker or if he’s the Buckeyes’ bullet this year. While Day said he’s a safety, that doesn’t necessarily eliminate him from being a Bullet. Where Williams ultimately ends up and how much we see from him will be determined in fall camp, but it’s always interesting how he is often spoken of by coaches as almost a known commodity even though he’s never played in a game.