Brendon White could have viewed his new role as a demotion.
After starting at safety and playing nearly every snap in Ohio State’s final five games of last season, White probably isn’t going to be a starter or an every-down player in this year’s defense.
While White is atop the depth chart at the bullet position, that position will be used situationally in this year’s defense. For the most part, White will be rotating into the lineup for Pete Werner, who is set to start in the Buckeyes’ base defense as a traditional Sam linebacker. The Buckeyes could still play White at safety at times, but they’re expected to more often play packages with three cornerbacks and only one deep safety on the field.
After coming on strong at the end of last season, recording at least five tackles in each of Ohio State’s final six games along with four tackles for loss, two pass breakups and an interception, White had appeared to finally settle in as a safety after flipping back and forth between defense and offense in his freshman year. But the revamping of the defensive coaching staff altered that plan.
White doesn’t seem to have any qualms about his role changing yet again, though. Instead, he’s embracing the opportunity to play his new position – a role that will have him playing more as a linebacker, the position he was initially recruited to play at Ohio State, than as a safety – even if that means coming off the bench.
“At the end of the day, I’m just out here trying to make plays for my team and help the team win,” White said while meeting with the media on Tuesday. “So if that’s Pete out there first, then I’m going to congratulate him, or I’m going to be ready when I get out there.”
In his new role, White is working primarily with co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison – who is the position coach for both the Sam linebackers and the bullets – and while he is still spending some time at safety and could line up there at some packages in games, he’s been mostly lining up in the box.
Instead of playing deep and covering receivers, White will mostly be closer to the line of scrimmage, covering tight ends in the passing game while coming downhill and trying to beat blocks to make stops in the running game. He believes his new responsibilities fit his game well, and he thinks the defense – which struggled last year in spite of his late-season surge – will be better as a result.
“I love it a lot,” White said of playing the bullet position. “Me being able to play multiple positions to help the team out and for me to also make plays for my teammates, it’s definitely nice to be in the box and at the same time, be able to guard receivers and stuff like that. So it’s definitely nice, and I think it would definitely help us win more games.”
How much White will play in each game will likely depend on who the Buckeyes are playing.
Both Mattison and fellow co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley have said that the new Ohio State defense will adjust its personnel to fit opponents’ personnel; White said Tuesday that he expects to play more on passing downs and against tight ends who are more athletic and better receivers, while he expects Werner to play more in running situations and against tight ends who are primarily blockers.
“I think it all depends on the type of offense we’re going to go up against,” White said. “So if it’s more of a passing offense, we’ll see me out there. If it’s more of a running offense, we’ll see Pete out there. And if it’s multiple tight ends, me and Pete will both be out there at the same time. So it really all depends on what the offense throws at us.”
White isn’t the only Buckeye who made the transition from safety to the bullet position this offseason; Jahsen Wint is also now playing bullet. And Wint, who played linebacker at Erasmus Hall High School before moving to safety for his first three years at Ohio State, is also embracing his new position in the Buckeyes’ defense.
“I love this role. I’m back to my roots playing linebacker,” Wint said. “‘Cause I felt like was more of an in-the-box type of player. I’m a physical player. So it felt good now that we have this position.”
Wint’s 2018 season took the opposite trajectory as White’s, as Wint began the year as a co-starter at safety but was benched after six games and played only on special teams for the rest of the year. Wint’s still behind White on the depth chart going into this year, leaving it uncertain whether Wint will see significant playing time on defense, given that White will already be splitting snaps with Werner.
He is confident that when he does see the field, though, his new position will fit his game better and allow him to make more plays on the ball – as he did in the spring game, when he recorded two interceptions.
“I just feel real comfortable and confident,” Wint said. “I want to have a way better season than I had last year and just make sure that I correct those mistakes that I had, and just come to play this year.”