Josh Proctor, Lathan Ransom Making Substantial Impact on Ohio State Safety Room After Returning From Leg Fractures

By Griffin Strom on August 12, 2022 at 11:35 am
Josh Proctor, Lathan Ransom
Adam Cairns, Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State’s 2021 season was bookended by perhaps the two most gruesome injuries suffered by any Buckeye all year. Eerily similar in nature, the incidents also afflicted the same position room.

During the second half of Ohio State’s Week 2 loss to Oregon, Josh Proctor was carted off the field at Ohio Stadium in an air cast after his right leg was rolled up on near the end zone. Proctor didn’t see the field again all season, as the Buckeyes’ starting free safety sustained a leg fracture.

In the second quarter of the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl win over Utah, Lathan Ransom snapped his leg during kickoff coverage in a sequence that threatened to jeopardize the start of his junior season – if not more.

But both are now back in full swing with the 2022 season opener less than a month away. The speedy offseason recoveries made by Proctor and Ransom bolster a group of safeties with the potential to be a strength of the revamped Ohio State defense. And by the sound of things this preseason, the pair will be far more than ancillary cogs for the Buckeye secondary.

“Seeing the safeties show up as they learn the system, like a guy like Lathan who I did not get a chance to be around much, he's great at pulling his trigger,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said after practice on Monday. “I mean, like he can see things and really react. So he's been a pleasant – not a surprise – I'm just saying it's great to see him in there because, between Proctor and Ronnie (Hickman) and Tanner (McCalister) and Cam (Martinez), (we have a lot of depth).”

Proctor started the spring on the sidelines at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as he continued to work his way back to full health. By April’s spring game, the fifth-year safety was the Buckeyes’ starting bandit in Knowles’ system, even if he still wasn't cleared for full contact.

A spring injury to Kourt Williams helped clear the way for Proctor to earn that role, but a healthy Williams hasn’t managed to take back the starting spot seven practices into preseason camp. That may have less to do with Williams’ shortcomings than it does the level of play Proctor has exhibited since receiving full medical clearance.

“He could be the best in the country.”– Jim Knowles on Josh Proctor

As a rangy 6-foot-2 safety with a mean streak on the field, Proctor’s potential has long been apparent. But the superlative praise Knowles heaped upon him Monday might have raised expectations for his performance even further.

“Proctor, sky's the limit. He's progressing very rapidly. He's very talented,” Knowles said of the Oklahoma native. “He could be the best in the country.”

Proctor’s versatility has enabled him to start at multiple safety positions over the past two seasons, and Knowles’ system will see him take on another new role in 2022. With Ronnie Hickman moving from last year’s bullet position to the adjuster (free safety) in Knowles’ scheme, Proctor is now Ohio State’s top boundary safety as the season approaches.

Tabbed as a vocal leader for the Buckeye defense this year, Hickman knows how important a healthy Proctor could be for Ohio State’s back seven.

“It's huge. Josh Proctor is probably one of the hardest-hitting safeties I've been around. So just having that kind of mentality, that edge that he brings to the defensive side is huge,” Hickman said at Big Ten Media Days last month. “I can't wait to see what he does. … Not much has changed. Josh is gonna be Josh. He's that freak of nature. He's that lanky safety who can run sideline to sideline, jump up in the air and go come down and smack somebody if need be. So it's exciting to see him back out there.”

Ransom has had far less time to rehab his own broken leg, but the third-year safety is back making plays in practice nonetheless. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day is impressed with the short duration of time in which Ransom needed to return to the field, although Day said Thursday that the Buckeyes are still monitoring his health during the preseason.

“He's had a very good summer, he's showed out, for sure. And yeah, it says a lot about Lathan's ability to recover and the work he put in with (physical therapist Adam Stewart) and (athletic trainer) Shaun Barnhouse and everybody in the training room,” Day said. “It's good to see him. We're certainly keeping an eye on it. Every day we kind of have a watchlist of guys that we keep a close eye on, make sure that they're good, but he's been able to handle it and that says a lot about him.”

Ransom started three games in a cover safety (slot cornerback) role in 2021, and also tried his hand at free safety while the Buckeyes’ dealt with the loss of Proctor. Knowles said Ransom has taken reps at the nickel, bandit and adjuster spots since rejoining the fold, but if Thursday’s practice is any indication, he appears to have found a home at the latter position.

Ransom saw extensive reps behind Hickman as Ohio State's second-string free safety in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 reps Thursday, and Knowles said the Buckeyes are looking for creative ways to implement his skill set even more once the season begins.

“Lathan has been playing all three of our safety positions. We're really trying to find a way to get him involved, along with Kourt,” Knowles said. “Kourt is a guy who is really doing well, and we're trying to find ways to get him involved. So you may see some packaging with different safeties in the game because of the way I feel like Lathan and Kourt are coming along. Particularly in the run game, you can see some packaging with those guys because they can play.”

Something of a concern at the end of spring, safety depth suddenly seems like a strength for the Buckeyes. Should all remain healthy, some deserving safeties may even find themselves on the outside looking in for more opportunities, depending on just how much rotation takes place on the back end.

Regardless of their individual aspirations, there’s little doubt the Buckeye defense only stands to benefit from the slew of talent it now has at its disposal at safety.

“It just adds nothing but depth. Guys who know what it's like who've been in the fire last year and the year before,” Hickman said. “They have the experience, they know what it's like to be out there when it's loud, when things aren't going well and when things are going well. So it does nothing but add goodness to us.”

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