With new coaches Al Washington and Greg Mattison introducing a new position – the bullet – on the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State will be looking for the right safety-linebacker hybrid during the spring and summer of 2019. But if the Buckeyes plan to make the bullet a long-term part of their defensive strategy, they need to recruit specifically for the position.
Most of the Buckeyes' current 2020 targets were offered before Mattison or Washington were added to the staff in January, but a few of them – with their body types and skillsets – could transfer into the bullet position almost seamlessly with some development. The ideal recruiting strategy moving forward for Ohio State would be to add prospects with the intent of putting them at the bullet, versus moving them to the position because their specs fit the mold.
“It’s funny, high school, they set the trend, you’re seeing high schools use that guy,” Washington said. “And so you can recruit to that guy, I think, to a certain extent.”
Based on what Washington and Mattison have done with the similar viper position in their time at Michigan and have shown in the practices open to the media this spring, they appear to searching for players who are about six feet and 200-220 pounds that can maneuver around the field in the same spaces as both safeties and linebackers.
Washington mentioned Thursday that junior safety Brendon White could be a good fit for the position. White has been working there this spring, jumping between bullet and safety reps, and his measurements are 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. Junior safety Jahsen Wint, who is 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, is another player practicing at the position.
Washington said the old practice was to plug a safety that possibly didn't have the speed to play that position into the bullet slot. But while it’s still likely that a bullet will be moved over from the safety position, the role of the position is expanding.
“Now, I feel like that guy, you think about historically, that guy is a guy who can sack, he can rush the passer. Not every safety can do that,” Washington said. “He’s a guy that has to be able to play at the line of scrimmage and use his hands; not every safety can do that. The guy has to be able to cover man, the slot; not every linebacker can do that.”
White has shown the most consistent production on the field among Ohio State's safeties not named Jordan Fuller, so he's the top candidate on the current roster to take over the bullet position. There might not be a reliable suitor behind him, though, to take on the responsibility.
With a lack of depth already at the position, it’s imperative that Ohio State addresses the situation in the 2020 recruiting class, and it appears the staff has already begun that process. Nearly all of the Buckeyes' top safety targets could potentially fit that mold, and these are a few of the most likely additions that could possibly end up at the bullet.
Four-star Arizona safety Lathan Ransom might not only be the most suitable safety that Ohio State is gunning for to fit the bullet position, but he might be the most suitable safety in the 2020 class for any such position.
Ransom stands at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds with room to grow and bulk to add, but he’s already playing with the ferocity and athleticism needed out of a safety-linebacker hybrid. As a junior in 2018, Ransom made 82 tackles and a sack from a position that mimics the bullet position at Salpointe Catholic (Tucson, Arizona). He’s also caught 11 interceptions between his sophomore and junior seasons.
Ransom is also the only safety within the top 10 safeties in the class that weighs at least 200 pounds and just one of three in the top 30. If needed, Ransom could bulk up to be a small linebacker, but the Arizona prospect has the skillset in coverage and the run-stopping ability to be a force at the bullet position.
Ransom included the Buckeyes in his top-14 Thursday and is high on Ohio State in the beginning of visits season. He visited Ohio State in late-February.
Four-star safety Jordan Morant out of New Jersey has a similar body type to Ransom at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. The No. 8 safety in the 2020 class can do a lot of the things that Ransom can do, except that there is just a bit of a drop-off in run-stopping situations. Morant offers more than Ransom in the ability to read offenses and make quick decisions in the middle of plays, though, which will be significant for the bullet position.
What makes Morant less of a fit than Ransom for the position is that, while Morant can do many of the little things that affect plays in less obvious ways, Ransom provides more in the playmaking area. Morant could likely become a difference-maker for any program at the safety position, though, which could be a selling point for Ohio State, if they could pair the two as a safety-bullet combination.
Morant has made 96 tackles from the safety position as a sophomore and junior and intercepted four passes, deflecting 10. Morant has unofficial visits scheduled for Michigan (March 29) and Ohio State (March 31).
Four-star Michigan safety Makari Paige is a bit of a different fit for the bullet position than Ransom or Morant, but his fit could still work. Standing at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Paige has a lot of room to grow and will be a longer safety than the average prospect. At West Bloomfield, he does many of the things that Ransom and Morant do at their respective high schools, and he also played linebacker and cornerback.
The No. 16 safety in the 2020 class recorded 105 tackles as a junior in 2018. There are three current frontrunners for Paige's eventual commitment – Michigan, Penn Sate and Ohio State.