Ohio State will be without its most experienced safety for the rest of the 2021 season.
Senior free safety Josh Proctor is out for the rest of the season after suffering a season-ending leg injury in Ohio State's second game of the season against Oregon on Saturday, Ryan Day confirmed Monday on the Buckeye Roundtable radio show.
Day said he did not know the specific diagnosis of Proctor's injury, but said he suffered a fracture and underwent surgery.
“Very, very tough injury for him, and prayers are out for him for his family,” Day said. “He did have a surgery, and he's resting safely now and everything, so that all went well. But a very, very big loss for our team, and obviously a big loss for him.”
Proctor suffered the injury in the third quarter of the Buckeyes’ 35-28 loss while making a tackle on a run by Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown. He was carted off the field after an air cast was placed on his right leg.
After playing in just two games this season, Proctor is eligible to take a redshirt and play for Ohio State in 2022, while he also still has the additional year of eligibility provided to all players by the NCAA last year. According to Lettermen Row's Austin Ward, Proctor is planning to return next season.
Proctor's injury is a big loss for an Ohio State defense that has already given up more than 30 points and 400 yards in each of its first two games of the year. Without Proctor, an already inexperienced back seven loses one of its only returning starter and a player who was expected to be one of the Buckeyes' top defensive playmakers as well as their last line of defense on the back end this year.
Bryson Shaw started and played the majority of snaps at free safety against Oregon, making him the likely candidate to start in place of Proctor, but the Buckeyes will need him to better than he was against the Ducks, as he made some mistakes on the back end including allowing Oregon running back CJ Verdell to run by him on a 77-yard touchdown run.
Marcus Hooker, who started five games at free safety for the Buckeyes last year but hasn't played a defensive snap since, is another candidate to get back in the mix at that position. Jantzen Dunn also spent time practicing at free safety this offseason, but the true freshman hasn't played any snaps for Ohio State yet.
Another option for the Buckeyes could be to move one of their other defensive backs to the free safety position. Lathan Ransom has lined up almost exclusively in the slot as the Buckeyes' starting cover safety so far this season, but he was initially recruited to play free safety and could replace Proctor in that role. With Ronnie Hickman locking down a starting job at bullet, Kourt Williams playing free safety could also be a possibility, though he hasn't seen any game action yet. Cameron Martinez could be another option to move from cover safety to free safety, though he also hasn't played any defensive snaps yet.
While Ohio State has primarily played with a single-high safety throughout Ryan Day's tenure as head coach, Proctor's injury could also prompt the Buckeyes to move to playing with two deep safeties – if they're willing to overhaul their defensive scheme – rather than leaving one safety to be the so-called “eraser” on the back end.
One way or another, finding a safety or safeties who can provide consistently reliable play in Proctor's absence will be one of the most important steps for the Buckeyes if they're going to turn things around defensively.