Ludicrous athleticism is one thing, but to record 107 tackles as a true freshman safety in the SEC requires something more.
Ryan Day sees much more than just athleticism in new Ohio State safety Caleb Downs.
“His talent is exceptional, but he’s already created an unbelievable amount of discipline in his life,” Day said. “He’s created the skills to play the safety position at a high level.”
While Downs dove into his decision to transfer to Ohio State on Jan. 30, the Buckeyes’ head coach gave his first public comments on this year’s No. 1 prospect in the transfer portal last Wednesday.
It’s safe to say Day is happy to have the former Alabama safety on board.
“Caleb, you saw what he did as a freshman,” Day said. “To say we’re all excited to have him as part of the program is an understatement. He brings a lot to the table.”
Downs added 3.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to his 107 total takedowns for Alabama last year. He made an impression on his more experienced teammates, one of which preceded Downs in coming to Ohio State.
That player, former Alabama center Seth McLaughlin, took immediate note of the way Downs carried himself during his freshman year in Tuscaloosa.
“I’ve been watching Caleb for a year now at Alabama and he was very, very impressive,” McLaughlin said. “He walked in and he acted like a third-year starter. He was a veteran. That’s very rare from a freshman. So he’s one of the most impressive freshmen I’ve seen come through Alabama.”
Day said Downs already has an appreciation for Ohio State’s rivalry with Michigan. The Wolverines thwarted the national title hopes of Downs, McLaughlin and their Alabama squad this past season, knocking off the Crimson Tide 27-20 in overtime in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Downs also got a lesson or two in the rivalry during his original recruitment, which Ohio State remained in the thick of until he ultimately signed on to play in Tuscaloosa.
“They verbalized that, so they were able to get on board really quick with that,” Day said of the former Tide duo. “In particular, Caleb knows. He went through this thing, we were right down to the wire at the end with Caleb. So he knows, but Seth as well. They know what’s coming at the end of the year.”
Day isn’t guaranteeing a starting job for Downs, but with Josh Proctor vacating the free safety position in Ohio State’s defense and the on-field results the youngster has already produced, any “competition” feels more like a formality to get the Georgia native on the field.
“He was a freshman All-American, I think he was a second-team All-American, so he certainly will be hard to beat out,” Day said. “But hey, you’ve gotta come in and compete. You’ve gotta earn it. Nothing’s gonna be given, nothing ever has been given.”
Outside of Proctor, Ohio State’s secondary is bringing all of its key pieces back for the 2024 season after already having boasted the nation’s No. 1 pass defense in 2023. Starting cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Davison Igbinosun, nickel Jordan Hancock and strong safety Lathan Ransom will bring plenty of firepower alongside Downs.
“His talent is exceptional, but he’s already created an unbelievable amount of discipline in his life.”– Ryan Day on Caleb Downs
The rest of the Buckeyes’ defensive backs will be hungry to get on the field, too. But Day expects the presence of Downs to make everyone in the secondary better.
“It’s fun because that secondary, they’re competitive now,” Day said. “They’re not gonna take a backseat to anybody. Everyone sat up a little straighter when he walked in and that was good. But he embraced them. He knows those guys from the recruiting process, so it’s gonna be some great competition this spring. But he is very, very talented.”