Damon Webb's Development Key in Ohio State Maintaining Success in the Secondary

By Tim Shoemaker on May 31, 2017 at 10:10 am
Ohio State safety Damon Webb at Michigan State last season.

Greg Schiano was rather definitive with his statement.

“Right now, the guy who performed like a starter [at safety] is Damon Webb,” Ohio State’s defensive coordinator said at the conclusion of spring practice. “He had his best stretch of football that I've ever seen in him.”

“I haven't seen that much, but from what I've seen, it was his best stretch of football.”

That’s certainly music to the ears of Ohio State fans.

Webb is one of two returning members to the Buckeyes’ secondary with any significant playing experience; cornerback Denzel Ward is the other. And Ohio State has its hands full even with those two back in the fold as it looks to replace Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Malik Hooker — three first-round NFL Draft picks — from last year’s back four.

An improved Webb would give the Buckeyes a nice lift in that regard.

“[Webb] has a look about him, a focus that I think this is going to be a huge summer for him,” Schiano said. “He's going to come back and have a great senior year.”

A former top-40 prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, Webb came to Ohio State with rather lofty expectations. A product of Cass Tech High School in Detroit, Webb was the first of three from the Michigan powerhouse to sign with the Buckeyes. Mike Weber and Josh Alabi joined him the following year.

He came to Columbus as a cornerback, but after spending his first two seasons working in Kerry Coombs’ meeting room as, primarily, a special teams contributor, Webb moved to safety prior to the 2016 season.

In his first season as a starter, Webb ranked fifth on Ohio State’s defense with 57 tackles. He had one interception, too, a 36-yard pick-six against Nebraska. However, Webb struggled, at times, more than the other Buckeyes’ defensive backs in pass coverage. According to CFB Film Room, Webb allowed 20 completions on 39 targets (51.2 percent) in 2016, far and away the highest percentage of the five secondary members who played significant snaps for Ohio State.

An improved Webb, however, would certainly help burden the losses of Conley, Hooker and Lattimore. The senior said he enjoyed the best spring of his career this year.

"I would say this is my best spring, just working on the stuff that Coach Schiano is talking about I need to enhance," Webb said. "I just thinking about learning the game more and the ins and outs of the defense and just being more of a leader for the young guys.”

During spring practice, Webb went as far as to say he was approaching things as if he wasn’t a starter. He will be, but that was the mentality he opted to take.

Ohio State’s other starting safety position, however, appeared as if it was still up for grabs at the conclusion of spring ball. Erick Smith and Jordan Fuller will continue to battle throughout fall camp and Schiano even hinted at the possibility of safety rotation — much like the Buckeyes do with their cornerbacks.

But if Ohio State is going to replicate the success it had as a secondary just one year ago, it is going to need Webb to take the leap in Year 2 as a starting safety.

“Well, I think he has a lot of experience now under his belt, so I think when you go through that first year with really playing the position, every snap, you have all that tape to go back and learn from,” Schiano said this spring. “You have the good experiences to expand upon and then you have the bad ones that you say, 'I've got to get that fixed; that hurt me.' He did an incredible job of studying himself and then he tried to take those things and implement them this spring and really worked hard.”

“He's also got that, ‘This is it.’ He's got one year left before he's done with his college career and you can see an increased urgency in everything he's doing.”

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