Jim Knowles Says Josh Proctor is “What We Want At Safety,” But He’s Still Working His Way Back from Injury

By Griffin Strom on March 31, 2022 at 8:35 am
Josh Proctor

Josh Proctor’s recovery is still ongoing, but his presence on the practice field Tuesday was a positive sign for the Buckeyes nonetheless.

The fifth-year safety, still working his way back from a season-ending leg fracture suffered in Ohio State’s September loss to Oregon, had not previously been able to participate in drills with the rest of the Buckeyes’ defensive backs during practices that were open to the media.

On Tuesday, though, Proctor was on the field with Perry Eliano and company running through drills with the rest of the safeties, working on hand placement and footwork before Ohio State got into contact drills and live action later on.

It might not have been much, but it was something for Proctor, who began last season as the Buckeyes’ starting free safety and figures to be right in the mix for the same role – albeit in a new Jim Knowles defense – if fully healthy by the start of the season. Noting his importance to Ohio State’s secondary in 2020, the Buckeye coaching staff is anxious to see Proctor back at full go, even if that is still a ways away at present.

“I mean, I wish he could do more,” Ryan Day said at a post-practice press conference Tuesday. “He's just kind of getting started and get moving around out there with individual drills, and it's been a long road for him to come back from. And that's not easy. He's had a few injuries in his career. So I wish he could do more right now, but he's kind of inching his way back. But that's OK. It's a long way to August.”

Day has been on staff for every year in which the top-75 high school prospect out of Owasso, Oklahoma, has been on the Buckeye roster, but Knowles, Eliano and secondary coach Tim Walton all have their first crack at molding Proctor as one of their own pupils this season. 

Knowles sounds eager to do so Tuesday, but of course, the injury is slowing down his ability to employ Proctor in his new multi-faceted scheme this spring.

“I haven't seen him really do anything. We need him, we want him,” Knowles said. “You know, I've seen film on him from last year. He's a guy that can really change the game. He's what we want at safety. So I just want him to get healthy.”

Given the rave reviews Knowles has heaped upon Ronnie Hickman, Kourt Williams and Tanner McCalister, they might the frontrunners to start at the adjuster (free), bandit (boundary) and nickel safety positions. That may very well be the case come August, but Proctor will likely have something to say about it if he resembles his former self after getting back on the field.

“I love Ronnie Hickman. I think he's got the skill. I think he's got the savvy. I just think he's a great piece in the middle there to run the show back there,” Knowles said. “I just like the way he plays and handles his business. And then Kourt I think is an excellent leader. We're going to continue to look at him in terms of the matchups that he may face from wide receivers, because if anything he needs to improve, it’s that and I got to make sure I put him in good positions. But I know I can go with him. I know I can trust him. And I know that he's going to give everything and that's a matter of me to put him in the right position.”

Knowles’ slight hesitancy about Williams’ ability to match up with speedier wideouts could hint toward varying safety lineups from game to game depending on offensive personnel. While starting Hickman at adjuster and Williams at bandit could be one option, starting Proctor at adjuster and Hickman at bandit could be another.

Before he took over for Marcus Hooker as the Buckeyes’ starting free safety in the latter half of the 2020 season, Proctor was used closer to the line of scrimmage as a cover safety in Kerry Coombs’ secondary. But even with the departure of Marcus Williamson and Lathan Ransom recovering from the injury he suffered in the Rose Bowl, that position should be pretty well-filled this season with McCalister, who figures to start right away and was the first Buckeye to lose his black stripe this spring.

“I think our nickels are really solid with Tanner, who understands everything about me and the scheme,” Knowles said. “And with Cam (Martinez) and Lejond (Cavazos) has been playing there too. I mean, I think we've got some impressive nickel play. But yeah, without Josh, I think we still need to have some other guys step up there at the bandit and adjuster position.

When discussing the standout safeties on the roster, Knowles made no mention of redshirt junior Bryson Shaw – who started the majority of the 2021 season at free safety – which may be another positive sign for Proctor’s prospects of coming back to a starting role.

At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds with a violent streak on the gridiron, Day believes Proctor is a player who can help unlock the potential of Ohio State’s defense when he’s playing at his best.

“First off he's rangy. He can cover a lot of ground. He's extremely physical. I mean, he will absolutely get after you, whether it's receivers downfield or coming up and playing the run game blitzing,” Day said. “And I remember in the Clemson game, the first time we played them, I mean, he got after (a Tiger running back) at the end. I mean, he was physical against that guy. He had that hit in the Wisconsin game (2019 Big Ten Championship) to end the game. He'll come downhill and he'll play physical. 

“And he also has really good ball skills, and he can track the ball and when he's playing at his best he’s all over the place. He plays with discipline, can really affect the game in a lot of areas, and he can get away with some things that maybe other guys can't. And that's what we're looking for out of him.”

Praise for Proctor was not in short supply from the Buckeye coaches on Tuesday, but they're sure to be even more pleased when he’s back at full strength. Unfortunately for the veteran defensive back, Day doesn’t envision that being any time this spring.

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