2014 Season Preview: Ohio State's Defensive Backs

By Tim Shoemaker on August 22, 2014 at 8:15a
Eleven Warriors' 2014 Ohio State Football Season Preview

Von Bell couldn't stop smiling when talking about Ohio State's new-look defense Monday.

It was almost hard to tell the Buckeyes' secondary was, statistically, one of the worst in all of college football in 2013 as they ranked 112th in the country and 11th in the Big Ten in pass defense.

So, after last year's defensive disappointment, head coach Urban Meyer brought in Chris Ash to coach the safeties and take the title as co-defensive coordinator, while Larry Johnson was brought in to lead the defensive line.

Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days that Ohio State has completely blown up its pass defense and started from scratch, but what is going to be the biggest difference this year when it comes to the secondary?

“It’s gonna be more aggressive. The corners are gonna be in your face, you’re gonna see a lot of big hits, a lot of plays," Bell said with a wide grin. "The secondary is very involved so you’re gonna see a lot of that.”

To put it simply: Ohio State's secondary must be better in 2014.

The Defensive Backs in 2013

The Buckeyes surrendered 268 yards per game through the air last year which was worse than every team in the Big Ten except Indiana.

After Ohio State lost safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending injury after the Wisconsin game, Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown assumed the starting role alongside C.J. Barnett at safety, while Bradley Roby and Doran Grant started at corner.

Of those five, Grant is the only one who returns in 2014. He made 58 tackles and had three interceptions last year for the Buckeyes.

Roby was a mainstay in the Ohio State secondary for years. Despite what many would consider a "down" year last season, he was selected No. 29 overall by the Denver Broncos in the most recent NFL Draft.

The Starters

As of right now, Ohio State only has two starters in its secondary: Grant and Tyvis Powell.

Ohio State Defensive Backfield Depth
13 CB APPLE, ELI 6-1 198 FR Voorhees, NJ
11 DB BELL, VONN 5-11 200 SO Rossville, GA
16 DB BURROWS, CAM 6-0 210 SO Trotwood, OH
28 S CIBENE, MICHAEL 6-0 186 SO Fort Lauderdale, FL
19 CB CONLEY, GAREON 6-0 190 FR Massillon, OH
32 S DOUP, RUSSELL 6-2 210 SR Mt. Vernon, OH
3 S FRANKLIN, KHALEED 6-1 206 SO Columbus, OH
12 CB GRANT, DORAN 5-11 193 SR Akron, OH
24 S HOOKER, MALIK 6-1 195 FR New Castle, PA
2 CB LATTIMORE, MARSHON 6-0 195 FR Cleveland, OH
29 S MADUKO, MIKE 5-9 190 FR Naperville, IL
26 S NIEHOFF, KEVIN 6-3 205 JR Mason, OH
23 S POWELL, TYVIS 6-3 208 SO Bedford, OH
26 CB REEVES, ARMANI 5-10 198 JR West Roxbury, MA
18 CB SARAC, NIK 5-9 183 SR Cleveland, OH
1 S SMITH, ERICK 6-0 198 FR Cleveland, OH
20 DB TANNER, RON 6-0 205 JR Columbus, OH
7 CB WEBB, DAMON 5-10 190 FR Detroit, MI
23 S WILLIAMS, ISAIAH 6-3 208 FR Dayton, OH
35 S WORLEY, CHRIS 6-2 222 FR Cleveland, OH

After spending most of last year in the nickel position, Powell will be making the move to strong safety this fall. He recorded 48 tackles and one very key interception last year.

The free safety position and the corner opposite of Grant are still very much up for grabs. Bell and Cam Burrows are competing for that safety spot and Ash said each has had a very strong camp.

"Cam Burrows and Vonn Bell have a great competition going at the free safety position," Ash said. "Both of those guys are outstanding every single day. It’s going to be a tough call as we come down the stretch."

The other battle in the secondary is for the second corner and it seems like Eli Apple and Gareon Conley are the top two contenders, with Armani Reeves also pushing for playing time. Meyer said Wednesday that there still was not a clear winner.

The Backups

It's hard to say at this point because only two starters have been named, but Ash said Monday whoever does not start between Bell and Burrows at free safety will still see playing time. You'd also have to imagine whoever doesn't start at the corner opposite of Grant would see the field, as well.

Some other players the coaching staff have mentioned as possible candidates to play in the secondary are freshmen and former Glenville High School teammates, Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith, along with another freshman from Detroit, Damon Webb.


2013 Defensive Statistics
GRANT, DORAN 58 10 3
BELL, VONN 19 0 1

The bottom line is Ohio State's pass defense must be better. It has to be if the Buckeyes are going to compete for a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff without star quarterback Braxton Miller running the offense.

Ohio State's defensive line, which should be one of the best in all of college football, can assist the inexperienced secondary, however. If the Buckeyes can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks while only rushing four, it will make things a lot easier on the younger players.

There will be a lot of new faces on the field for the Ohio State secondary which still raises a lot of questions, but the coaching staff seems pleased with the progress made to this point.

“It starts with the effort. I see great effort and on every single play our guys are flying around," Ash said. "They know the system , they know the calls, they’re playing fast, they’re getting to the ball, they’re making plays on the ball and they’re doing it consistently play in and play out and that’s the great thing to watch.”


Comments Show All Comments

buckguyfan1's picture

So young and talented.  I want to see some vicious hitting this year!  We need a Bad Attitude back there. 

+3 HS
DCBuckeye33's picture

This season preview series has been incredible. I think this unit is the key to success for the D. If Ash gets these guys performing, the bullets will be back


apack614's picture

I really like Powell, he is going to be a difference maker this year. No doubt!

I can't wait to poop in the PL bathroom.

+1 HS
melbournebuckeye30's picture

Great rundown.  I thought Chris Worley was backing up Lee as the walk-out linebacker.  Did he get moved back to safety?


d5k's picture

You are right, I think they have relied on ohiostatebuckeyes.com for the roster and it hasn't been updated.  Gene Smith needs to use some of that indoor waterfall money to up their website game imo.

Chark's picture

Defense wins games. Sure you have to score at least some points to win, but I don't see scoring points as the problem this year or last. I get the feeling one-legged QBs from ttun won't pick us apart with 5-10 yard gimmees every play to keep it close.

This is the year the Silver Bullets release the Silver Kraken!

Alcohol will not solve any of your problems, but then again, neither will milk or water.

USArmyBuckeye's picture

I have to admit, i'm still very surprised that Cam is giving Von Bell such a run for his money for the starting spot.  It either speaks very highly of Cam or the injury has set Bell's development back significantly.  Fingers crossed for option A!

+1 HS
DCBuckeye33's picture

I bet its more option A. Cam burrows was a very highly rated recruit himself, he should be able to compete with anyone and it sounds like he is. I think we have 2 very good options in that spot


+1 HS
d5k's picture

Burrows also played very well at corner in his spot duty last year.  He is a safety with corner skills and fluidity.  The cover 4 that Ash will run also requires the safety to play more man-to-man (if the slot receiver goes vertical).  Burrows will be a good fit for that system.

+4 HS
OHinTN's picture

I'm pulling for Bell.  Having lived in TN for the past 18 yrs, I've had to put up with the UT fans and SEC homers.  My office mate (huge UT fan) and I were following the recruitment of Bell very closely.  Bell supposedly grew up a big UT fan and coming down to Bell's announcement, he was very confident Bell would pick the Volunteers.  We were watching the press conference at work and when Bell chose the Buckeyes, my friend jumped up and yelled "That's bullshit...he had Tennessee sheets on his bed growing up!  How the F is he going to pick Ohio State???"  I just sat there with a huge shit-eating grin on my face.  The satisfaction I feel reminiscing that moment is such a great thing!  Hopefully Bell will have a great career as a Buckeye and I can rub it in for a long, long time!  Here's to you Vonn and Go Bucks!!!

+6 HS
robobuck's picture

That Michael Jordan he pulled in the Sugar Bowl was only a small taste of things to come.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  1 Corinthians 9:24

saluki2007's picture

Well it certainly can't get any worse.  I loved how during the Spring game they were not giving up any YAC.  Lot's of good sound tackling, which is another thing that has been missing from the last couple of teams.

+2 HS
theopulas's picture

what Ash just said about them is the most glowing statement i heard about this defense...if the DB are that ready and the DL is one of the best and our LBs are one of our strengths...then this season can be good...last two Trophy winners was RS freashmen and if our offense can put up 25 a game, we might be there in the end.....


+1 HS
d5k's picture

You left out the best punter in the country... I think we will need him more than last year.

+2 HS
bassplayer7770's picture

I look forward to seeing the DBs in action this season.  Ash seems pretty impressed.  Go Bucks!

ManOfSky's picture

I think the best thing about our secondary is the depth. The most devastating thing that happened last year, when Bryant got injured, just tore us apart because we didn't have anybody ready. This year, fingers crossed that there are no injuries at all, but due to the competition at each position the next man up will be ready.

+4 HS
TURD_BUCKET's picture

Lots of good things possible with the back seven this year. The D-line looks unquestionable. If the talent at the back seven lives up to expectations this could be a special defense for a few years.

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.” John Wooden

+1 HS
Poison nuts's picture

You know what's interesting? I have not hear a single word about Damon Webb since he arrived. I expected him to be right in the thick of things - but have heard nada regarding his progression. Has anyone else heard about him? Did I miss something? I thought he'd among the first kids to lose his stripe, but I believe he's yet to have that happen.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Poison nuts's picture

Thanks for the info. I missed this completely...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

For whom the Bell tolls...hopefully our defense brings the pain and the Victory Bell is ringing after every game...can't wait.


Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

SLVRBLLTS's picture

I feel a 3rd down at Ohio Stadium and Hell's BELLs ringing zinger in here somewhere, but can't find it.

"Because we couldn't go for three"

AlwayzABuckeye614's picture

We have some pretty tall DB's this year, look at the walk ons named above, 6'1, 6'2 ,6'3 ,6'3 etc, I cant wait to see these guys on special teams and hopefully some cleanup rolls in blowouts

redcans's picture

They certainly are not lacking for talent in the secondary. That talent combined with effort and some good coaching should produce a markedly better product this year.

Although he has been working at safety (almost exclusively it sounds), wonder if there is any way Cam sees some time at nickel this year? Would love to get him and Bell on the field at the same time!

HotSauceCommittee's picture

Mike Maduko is the walk-on friend and HS teammate of Dylan Thompson correct?

Run_Fido_Run's picture

The bottom line is Ohio State's pass defense must be better. It has to be if the Buckeyes are going to compete for a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff without star quarterback Braxton Miller running the offense.

So true. But you could argue that this team was unlikely to win a national championship with Braxton Miller unless the pass defense got much better than it was last season. Whereas give this team a shut down rush defense (say, 2.8 yards per carry) and a top 30 pass defense, and they make some of the doubters look silly.

+1 HS
dwcbuckeye's picture

Cam Burrows, when he was in last year, was excellent I thought.  I couldn't for the life of me understand why he was not in more often.  Having said that, you have a 5 Star recruit that was personally recruited my Meyer.  By all accounts Bell has a high ceiling and incredible athletic.  I am pulling for him to win this spot and hopefully Burrows has plenty of playing time.  I think the reason the competition is even close is not just because Burrows is a heck of a player, but because Bell was underutilized last year and the injury.  You can't make great strides in improvement riding the bench.  I guess my fear is Bell may transfer if it is clear to him, he will not be starting.  Both Burrows and Powell are Sophmores as well.  You can't have a kid with, in all liklihood, NFL potential/talent on the bench.  He is going to start somewhere

+1 HS
cinserious's picture

I have a feeling our young defensive backs this year will be greeting opponents with BAD intentions! Expect aggressive, nasty dispositions from the baby Bucks.


One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

+3 HS
sivaDavis's picture

Would love to see Cam get some PT at corner across from Doran. He's shifty enough to keep up with smaller receivers and strong enough to jam bigger receivers at the line. I think in this scheme you will see him at corner at some point during the season with the defense being simplified. If Cam is competing with Vonn at safety, he must be too good to keep off the field for long periods of time. I honestly think we could see him at corner as early as next Saturday, seeing how Cam is great in run support. Can't wait! Beat Navy!

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
Icouldnotgofor3's picture

This Isaiah Williams kid at 6'3" and 208 lbs. ? Now that is the type of safety I'm talking about! Height to match up with any receiver and pounds to bring the wood on the tackles. Hope to hear more of him. BTW: I'm praying HARD that ASH teaches his DB's to turn their heads around to the ball when the receiver does. So many interceptions were missed last year because of this. TURN your heads to the ball!

Saban on a cart eating cold pizza

gumtape's picture

No mention of Ron Tanner, surprising since he did OK in the limited action that he saw last year.

High and tight boo boo

+2 HS
SpielmanForPres's picture

The key to the season falls upon all of the DB's shoulders. 

buckeye4life050233's picture

so long as no longer our db's (Armani reeves in particular) get flat out beat and out run by a tight end

Brutus1972's picture

Let's be honest, there's no way that the secondary can look any worse than last year. Top talent out of position and confused on nearly every pass play of every game. However, Pitt Brown and Armani Reeves did not appear to have the athletic ability to be starters with or without the confusion created by the scheme or a lack there of. I truly believe that Cam Burrows could excel at any secondary position that is required which leads me to believe that he will see plenty of PT no matter who starts where. I feel very good about our secondary and I look forward to their ability to make us forget about last year's 112th rated pass defense.

mtrotb's picture

Like to see 4th year junior Ron Tanner graduate spring semester.  All the safeties in front of him are younger.


-1 HS