Now that spring football is over, it’s time to look back at exactly what we just saw. We’ll go over each position group over the next two weeks with what was learned and what still needs to happen. Up next will be the Ohio State safeties.
Quick Position Overview
Ohio State returns both of their safeties from late last year in Josh Proctor and Marcus Williamson. Their roles should be more defined this year. Proctor is currently the guy at free safety. Sophomore Lathan Ransom will compete with Williamson for the cover safety/slot corner role. Redshirt freshman Cam Martinez is also in that mix. The linebacker/safety hybrid Bullet position could become a vital part of this defense and right now it’s split between redshirt sophomores Craig Young and Ronnie Hickman.
Expectations Going In
There were almost too many questions to have particular expectations going into spring. We didn’t know which safeties would line up where, or how many. Then the week before camp began, Marcus Hooker was busted for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, which has thrown his future in doubt. The only real expectation was that even without Hooker the Buckeyes would have more options at safety than they had the last time they were on the field back in January. This spring was going to be an opportunity for inexperienced players to grow fundamentally and gain a better understanding of what exactly this defense is supposed to look like.
Reality Coming Out
Following spring ball, roles are much more defined — at least in the eyes of the media. Josh Proctor is at the deep safety spot while Lathan Ransom and Marcus Williamson are battling it out at the cover safety/slot corner position. The Bullet also appears to be a very real addition this spring as well. Craig Young has spent time at both safety and linebacker in his time for the Buckeyes, which makes this feel like a pretty good fit for the third-year sophomore. Each of these positions are now three-deep, which is something the Ohio State defense couldn’t say a year ago.
Ronnie Hickman showing up at Bullet — and potentially the nickel Bullet at that — was a bit of a surprise. Hickman has struggled with health and finding a role, but did get a decent number of snaps against Michigan State and Rutgers last year. It will be interesting to see exactly what his role is this season. At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he might be on the light side of the linebacker/safety prism, but maybe that’s less of a concern if he’s the Bullet who comes in on passing downs.
Can the “cover safety” cover safely? Marcus Williamson spoke this spring about learning from his mistakes last year and being better equipped to handle whatever duties he’s given this year. Williamson had his ups and downs last year, but by all accounts had a very good offseason. He will be competing with Lathan Ransom, who came to Ohio State as a safety, but is now in line for playing more man coverage in this role than anybody may have expected when he signed with the Buckeyes. The cover safety/slot corner position is asked to defend the slot receiver and the Ohio State defense will be attempting to do that with two very different kinds of guys. Williamson is 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, which is about the size of the players he’d be facing. Ransom, meanwhile, is safety-sized at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. Can he stay with quicker inside receivers he’ll be facing? The good news is that you won’t find a ton of concern coming out of Ohio State about this position, especially when he you include Cameron Martinez in the discussion.
So Now What?
Now nine or more players continue the process of getting ready for the season. A year ago the options were slim, but this year those numbers and options have grown double or even triple. Competitions will still occur and the depth chart below could see some movement. Jobs still need to be finalized in fall camps, including what the defense is going to do about their nickel package (which would actually be a dime package considering the Bullet gives them a base nickel). In other words, when the Buckeyes go to a dime, who are they taking off the field and are they adding a safety or a corner?
We still don’t know if Josh Proctor is the answer at free safety. Heading into last year, replacing Jordan Fuller as the last line of defense was always a major concern. It remained a concern all season long, as only Michigan and Rutgers gave up more passes of 30+ yards in Big Ten play than Ohio State (10) last year. But it wasn’t just the free safety that was an issue because the cover safety was never able to fully replace Shaun Wade either. The slot has more options at the moment, so that should figure itself out. The free safety spot needs a guy with range who can tackle and be disciplined. Proctor has taken this offseason very seriously, which is good to hear.
Are We Sure?
Are we sure the Bullet is going to be part of the base defense?
“Well, I’ll tell you this about Cam Martinez, you can’t sit in a meeting without hearing great things about him right now. Whether that’s strength and conditioning, our nutritionist brags about him, our training staff brags about him. I just five minutes ago walked out of a special teams meeting where coach Fleming was bragging on how well he’s done in special teams. Cam has really, really put his head down and gone to work since this past season ended and he’s got to be one of the most improved guys so far that we’ve seen. He’s played inside, he’s played outside, he’ll play true safety for us.” — Defensive backs coach Matt Barnes on Cam Martinez.
|41 Josh Proctor | Senior | 6-2 195|
|Josh Proctor brings experience to the secondary but didn’t get as much time as the deep safety last year. That changed this spring, which is the first step towards success in 2021.|
|17 Bryson Shaw | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-0 195|
|Even though he hasn’t seen much time on defense, Bryson Shaw is no longer a young player. He received plenty of reps this spring and also got some work with the ones.|
|24 Jantzen Dunn | Freshman | 6-1 188|
|It probably won’t happen this year, but Jantzen Dunn is the likely future of the free safety position at Ohio State. Spring was pretty quiet, but that’s not atypical for a true freshman.|
|12 Lathan Ransom | Sophomore | 6-1 200 OR|
|Lathan Ransom finished spring strong, doing a nice job of coverage in the spring game. Ryan Day is a fan of Ransom’s potential, which was on display all spring long.|
|21 Marcus Williamson | Graduate Senior | 5-10 185|
|Marcus Williamson opted to come back for a fifth year and has a year as a starter last season to fall back on. He’s an experienced defender set on improving upon last year.|
|10 Cameron Martinez | Redshirt Freshman | 5-10 192|
|Cam Martinez has moved around in the secondary as the coaches tried to find him a home. What they may have ultimately found is a do-it-all kind of defensive back.|
|15 Craig Young | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-3 223 OR|
|Craig Young has made the move from Sam linebacker to Bullet and has the ability to defend the run and cover tight ends down the field. He could be a key to OSU’s defense in 2021.|
|14 Ronnie Hickman | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-1 205|
|Ronnie Hickman may have finally found a home on the Ohio State defense. He’s battled injuries and inexperience early in his career but is finally healthy.|
|2 Kourt Williams | Redshirt Freshman | 6-1 215|
|Kourt Williams was able to participate in some running aspects of practice, but won’t be full go until later. He may not be needed this year, but Ryan Day has raved about him in the past.|