As expected, Josh Proctor began the season as one of Ohio State’s three starting safeties. However, it took just one play in the Buckeyes’ season opener for Proctor to lose his grip on the starting job.
On Ohio State’s first defensive play of the season, Proctor attempted to break in front of a pass to Notre Dame wide receiver Lorenzo Styles and paid the price for it, as Styles caught the ball and ran for a 54-yard gain. Proctor was replaced on Ohio State’s next defensive series by Lathan Ransom, who would play every defensive snap for the rest of the game while Proctor returned to the defensive lineup for just one play.
Ransom made a solid case for himself to remain the Buckeyes’ starting bandit with a strong performance in which he recorded seven total tackles and seemed to consistently be in the right position as Ohio State allowed Notre Dame to score just once in nine possessions with Ransom in the game.
Even though Ransom didn’t start against Notre Dame, Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and safeties coach Perry Eliano weren’t surprised by his performance because of how well he performed in preseason camp and how hard he worked during the offseason.
“Lathan’s had a great fall camp. He practices well. He loves what he does. He prepares well. So what you saw on Saturday did not surprise me,” Eliano said Tuesday. “He just is a football player that's very instinctive. When he goes, he goes, and obviously, he has a great impact when he makes plays on the ball.”
Fellow Ohio State safety Ronnie Hickman, who said in August that Ransom “had one of the best camps I've seen since I've been in this program,” was similarly unsurprised by how well Ransom performed.
“It’s no surprise at all,” Hickman said. “I've seen him make those plays routinely come camp and practice and stuff like that. That's things we talked about. So I'm just happy he got the chance to go out there and do it.”
When Ransom initially took Proctor’s place in the lineup, the Buckeyes weren’t necessarily planning to keep Ransom in for the rest of the game. But Ransom made a big play on his first series when he stopped Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer short of a first down on a 3rd-and-7 catch, and Ohio State didn’t want to take Ransom off the field as he built momentum from there.
“What I wanted to do is just calm Josh down. And Lathan ended up playing quite a bit because he got in a rhythm,” Eliano said. “But we need both of them to do what we need to do this year.”
Eliano was pleased with the way Proctor handled the situation.
“Josh was great on the sideline. He was phenomenal,” Eliano said. “One of the things we talk about brotherhood, being selfless, he was great. I met with Josh (on Sunday after the game) like I do every guy I have in the game or didn't play, and just kind of got his thoughts. But he was great.”
With how much and how well Ransom played against Notre Dame, he might have usurped Proctor on the depth chart. Considering how little Ohio State rotated in the back seven against Notre Dame and that Knowles has said he doesn’t want to rotate much at those positions, that leaves in the question how much of a role Proctor will have on Ohio State’s defense going forward.
That said, Ryan Day still expects Proctor’s role to be substantial.
“We're gonna need Josh. Josh is going to have to play for us. And he'll play a significant amount this year, for sure,” Day said Tuesday.
Hickman also believes Proctor, who missed all but the first two games of last season after suffering a compound fracture in his leg, will be a valuable contributor to Ohio State’s defense this season.
“Proc is an experienced veteran here. I think he handled everything well,” Hickman said. “It's a long season ahead. Proc’s a great player, and so are the other guys in the room. I'm excited for everyone in the room. Whenever someone's on the field, I'm sure they're gonna make that play when their number’s called.”
Knowles spoke highly of Proctor this preseason, saying the fifth-year safety’s potential is such that he “could be the best in the country." Eliano also heaped praise upon Proctor on Tuesday, describing him as “a phenomenal player.”
“Great young man, got a huge role on his football team,” Eliano said. “And I love him. I trust him.”
“We're gonna need Josh. Josh is going to have to play for us. And he'll play a significant amount this year, for sure.”– Ryan Day on Josh Proctor
Ohio State’s quick switch from Proctor to Ransom in the season opener was an early indicator that the new defensive coaching staff will not be afraid to substitute out underperforming players when needed, and suggested the leash for players who make mistakes that lead to big plays could be shorter this season than it has been in the past.
But there will be opportunities for Proctor to redeem himself, starting this week against Arkansas State, a game in which the Buckeyes are likely to rotate more heavily on defense than they did against Notre Dame. And Eliano said Proctor has remained as engaged as ever in his preparation.
“He was in here this morning watching film. He was in yesterday watching film. So he's preparing like a pro,” Eliano said. “He's resilient. And he's ready to put his best foot forward.”