In their second-ranked 2017 class, the Buckeyes landed seven defensive backs: Five-stars Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade, JUCO transfer Kendall Sheffield, and four-stars Isaiah Pryor, Brendon White, Amir Riep and Marcus Williamson.
Less one, as Sheffield has moved on from Ohio State to pursue NFL opportunities, the 2017 defensive back unit will all return to Columbus with a chance to resurrect the unit once known as "BIA."
Ohio State had an incredible run of producing NFL defensive back talent: Eli Apple, Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Denzel Ward were all taken in the first round of the NFL Draft in recent years, and Vonn Bell was a second-round choice in 2016.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 9, 2018
Viciously, Ohio State's secondary was not nearly as good this season. Sheffield and Damon Arnette looked lost at points under new coach Taver Johnson, who was not retained by Ryan Day and the new coaching staff heading into 2019. Johnson is now the assistant DB's coach for the Oakland Raiders.
Even with the return of three out of four starters in the secondary (four out of five if you count the nickel spot), everyone on the Ohio State side will admit that there is still work that needs to be done.
According to new secondary coach Jeff Hafley, the Buckeyes will play a lot of man coverage, but will mix it up at times as well. "We'll play some press, we'll play some off, we'll play a little bit of everything," Hafley said quite bluntly in his introductory press conference.
Under Hafley and assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes, expect the Buckeyes to be fundamentally sound and actually look for the football. But the improvement cannot be all on the coaches, of course. The players are ultimately the ones who are on the field during the games.
Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller are the lone seniors in the Buckeye secondary room next year. The rest of the gaps must be filled by youngish players, and most of these will come from guys who are in their third year in the program.
Running away with one of the cornerback spots is Okudah, and it is expected that Wade will be filling in at the other spot, or at the nickel if the coaches decide to play Arnette on the outside.
Even though Fuller returns to provide an anchor at one safety spot, White will come back for his second year (and first full one) starting with hopes to improve on his game, as well. At times last year, White looked absolutely spectacular, but that could just be a product of the poor play surrounding him. Nevertheless, we will certainly find out whether he can continue his string of strong outings.
Brendon White better be a starter against Michigan State this weekend. We havent seen a safety play like this all year... pic.twitter.com/mGuT0xcalY
— Mr. Ohio (@MrOH1O) November 5, 2018
Young but talented is the motto for this new secondary group at Ohio State. Wade was forced to sit his true freshman season due to injury, but will now enter his third season with lofty expectations in part due to his five-star ranking out of high school.
Pieces seem to be there. At times, the young defensive backs were bright stars last year. Okudah played a stellar Rose Bowl Game, White made big plays in the second half of the season, and Wade was solid in most of his playing time.
Less Sheffield, it is imperative that those three players continue their ascent up the depth chart but what may be just as important is the depth pieces behind them.
Even though they are two seasons into their Ohio State careers, Williamson and Riep have yet to make a significant impact. Pryor began last season as a starting safety, but was replaced after struggling in his role. There is not a ton of depth behind them, and certainly not much experience, so those players need to take leaps here as they enter year three.
Additions in the coaching staff will certainly help. Hafley seems to be saying all the right things so far, as does assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes, but as mentioned, it all will come down to the players.
So, that's the bottom line. The players have to improve, and with it being their third year in the program, there is no time like the present.
Expect big things from the class of 2017 DB's this upcoming season.