Damon Webb may be the only returning starter from last season's secondary, but he still hasn't locked up a starting spot for next season.
Webb started all 13 games at Ohio State's falcon safety position, finishing the season with 57 total tackles and a pick-six. He's the only returning starter in the secondary and has the most game experience by far. Still, he says even he has to earn his starting spot before fall.
"Right now, we don't have no starters," Webb said, "even me. It's a great competition."
The reason is not because he's done anything to lose his spot, but because of the talent behind him. Sophomore Jordan Fuller and senior Erick Smith are hungry and talented and will be difficult to keep off the field in the fall.
The three of them will compete for two starting spots, meaning all three will have to be at their best all spring, summer and fall.
"I think it's great because it's keeping everybody on their toes; everybody's competing hard," Fuller said. "Maybe if there was a true starter we would be a little more chill or something like that, but it's not like that at all."
Fuller played sparingly last season, seeing most of his action on special teams. He appeared in 12 games and finished the season with 11 total tackles. Though he didn't see a ton of action, Fuller says his freshman season was vital to his development as a player.
"Last year was great; it was just a big learning experience," Fuller said. "During camp I had a lot to learn so that kind of set me back a little bit, but it was great learning from Damon (Webb) and (Erick Smith) and coach (Greg) Schiano. It was quite the experience, really. I was really happy with my roll."
"We're all competing. There's no job solidified right now."– Jordan Fuller
Smith, on the other hand, is a veteran. Entering his fourth season at Ohio State, Smith has sat behind Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Malik Hooker during his time in Columbus after being slowed by a season-ending ACL tear in 2015. When he's healthy, he's more than capable. Coming out of high school, he was the No. 3 player in the state of Ohio and the nation's No. 6-rated safety.
Fuller and Smith have both received plenty of first-team reps this spring at both safety positions. They've both been so impressive that secondary coach Kerry Coombs said he believes the Buckeyes will rotate all three safeties in 2017, much like the defensive line does currently.
“I think Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller are playing great and there’s no reason why those guys couldn’t rotate," Coombs said. "We do it on the defensive line and nobody ever asks a question about that, right? They keep rolling those guys in and guess what they do? They play fast and they sack quarterbacks."
If all three safeties truly are playing like starters, a rotation would keeps players fresh at a position that has to cover a lot of ground throughout the game.
"When you have a talented team, the more guys you can play, keep fresh, keep healthy and get experience, the better you're going to be defensively," Coombs said. "I would say there’s no reason to say those three kids can’t do the same thing in the back end."
The players, too, see the value in a rotation, knowing it's going to take a team effort to replace Hooker, who was one of the most exciting players in the country in 2016.
"We're all trying to fill that void," Fuller said. "It's not a me thing."
"We all gotta fill the void together," he said. "We're all competing hard, going against the offense and just pushing each other — all the safeties."
Rotation or not, someone has to start. Someone has to be listed first on the depth chart. Someone has to run out of the tunnel in August as a starting safety. The players aren't forgetting that.
"It would mean the world to me," Fuller said of the opportunity to be a starter. "That's why I work as hard as I do."