We thought we had this position group figured out.
With Jordan Fuller coming back for his final season and Brendon White's emergence towards the end of the season, it looked like Ohio State had its two starting safeties for the 2019 season.
The coaching staff apparently had other plans, however, presumably moving both White and Jahsen Wint to a new hybrid safety/linebacker role, as speculated by Tony Gerdeman and reported by Alex Gleitman.
With this change of plans, the safety situation suddenly looks quite reminiscent of last offseason with the Buckeyes having proven veteran at one safety position and desperately needing someone to emerge at the other.
What We Know
Much like last year, the Buckeyes have Jordan Fuller to anchor the group.
Fuller led the teams in tackles last season and finished second in total tackles the season before. He could have left for the NFL draft, but is returning after saying "I think I did OK. It wasn’t the season I wanted to have."
We also know that Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint each took first-team snaps reps opposite of Fuller before White and Fuller became the starting combo following the Nebraska game.
Nobody other than White stepped up and earned the starting spot last season, but they'll have another shot to do it this season.
What We Don’t Know
We can speculate based on their previous schemes at other locations, but with a pair of new co-defensive coordinators in Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison, we really don't know for sure what the defense will look like.
|No.||Name||Ht.||Wt.||Year||Hometown (High School)|
|4||JORDAN FULLER||6-2||204||SR||Norwood, New Jersey (Old Tappan)|
|10||AMIR RIEP||6-0||195||JR||Cincinnati, Ohio (Colerain)|
|12||ISAIAH PRYOR||6-2||197||JR||Lawrenceville, Georgia (IMG Academy)|
|23||JAHSEN WINT||5-11||196||RS JR||Brooklyn, New York (Erasmus Hall)|
|25||BRENDON WHITE||6-2||210||JR||Powell, Ohio (Olentangy Liberty)|
|29||MARCUS HOOKER||5-11||192||RS FR||New Castle, Pennsylvania (New Castle)|
|30||KEVIN DEVER||6-0||192||JR||Cleveland, Ohio (St. Edward's)|
|33||JOSH PROCTOR||6-2||198||SO||Owasso, Oklahoma (Owasso)|
|34||OWEN FRANKHAUSER||5-11||195||SR||Stow, Ohio (Stow-Munroe Falls)|
|35||LUKE DONOVAN||5-11||190||SO||Scottdale, Arizona (Desert Mountain)|
|43||RYAN BATSCH||6-3||205||SO||Cincinnati, Ohio (Loveland)|
|RONNIE HICKMAN||6-1||200||FR||Wayne, New Jersey (DePaul Catholic)|
One hint at the new scheme is the new hybrid linebacker/safety position that it seems White will occupy. Based on Mattison's experience, we can probably assume this will look a lot like the position Jabrill Peppers played at Michigan.
Even with the new hybrid position, Ohio State will still use two safeties and has just one returning starter, making that the most obvious unknown.
White and Wint's position change likely rules them out as starters the safety position opposite of Jordan Fuller, making the most likely candidates Pryor, sophomore Josh Proctor, Amir Riep and possibly Shaun Wade.
Players to Watch
Wade emerged as one of the team's top defensive backs towards the end of last season, showing flashes of his five-star potential. However, with Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette both returning at cornerback, his clearest path to a starting spot in the base defense may come at safety instead of corner.
Proctor is another name to watch. The No. 71 prospect in the nation, Proctor played sparingly his true freshman season, seeing action primarily on special teams. He was one of the most highly touted safety prospects in the country coming out of high school, and after a year in the program he could be on the verge of a breakout season.
Riep is another interesting prospect, as he did not play meaningful snaps last season, even when Isaiah Pryor was injured and Jordan Fuller was ejected for targeting against Nebraska. As a junior, he's running out of time to earn a spot in the starting lineup.
Then there's Pryor. Pryor seemed to win the starting safety job ahead of last season – or at least the right to get the first crack at live-game action – but he struggled mightily at times. Pryor and Wint bounced back and forth in that top safety role until White's emergence at the end of the season. Pryor will have every opportunity to win the job again this season, but will need to show improvement.
With Fuller returning, the Buckeyes have a potential all-conference player as the cornerstone of the unit, but for the second-straight year desperately need someone else to step up next to him and behind him.
There were certainly concerns at the safety position last season, but a new coaching staff has a full spring and offseason to diagnose and solve them, and the players have the same time to develop and improve.
With the news of White and Wint's position switch, the safety position just became an area of concern this offseason, but the situation probably isn't quite as urgent as it is with linebackers and offensive line.
Projected Depth Chart
1. Isaiah Pryor or Shaun Wade
2. Shaun Wade or Isaiah Pryor
3. Josh Proctor
1. Jordan Fuller
2. Amir Riep
1. Brendon White
2. Jahsen Wint