New Ohio State Safeties Coach Matt Guerrieri Impressed With Depth of Talent in Ohio State’s Safety Room

By Andy Anders on February 24, 2024 at 8:35 am
Lathan Ransom

It’s always a bonus for a new position coach on any team to walk into a room with some talent.

As Matt Guerrieri takes over as Ohio State’s safeties coach, he believes the talent throughout the Buckeyes’ safeties room is fantastic.

“I’ve been impressed with the depth across the board,” Guerrieri said. “There’s guys that have played big roles. Obviously Caleb (Downs) wasn’t here (last year) but is here (now). You’ve got Malik Hartford who started in games as a true freshman. There’s great depth, I think, across positions as the defense. It’s our job as recruiters to be able to build that. ... Really excited about the playmaking ability of a number of guys on the defense.”

The 2024 safety lineup is all but set for Ohio State as Guerrieri takes over for Perry Eliano as said trio's coach.

Lathan Ransom, the group's stalwart, is entering his third season as the Buckeyes’ starting bandit, or boundary safety. He took over the position from Josh Proctor during the first game of Ohio State’s 2022 campaign and hasn’t relinquished it since.

Ransom led all non-linebackers on the team in tackles in 2022, racking up 74 of them with 3.5 tackles for loss, an interception and three pass breakups. He responded to some key lapses at the end of that season against Michigan and Georgia by returning to the bandit role in 2023 and getting off to another strong start, collecting 34 tackles, an interception and two pass breakups in eight games.

A lower-body injury, the second season-ending injury Ransom has faced in his Ohio State career as he also broke his leg in the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2021 season, cut his season short. Per Guerrieri, he's much healthier now.

“Lathan’s doing great,” Guerrieri said. “He’s a guy who’s the heartbeat of that room and has been through hardship before and continues to battle back. He’s a warrior.”

Ransom is one of several players in the position room who have a background working with Guerrieri during his time as an Ohio State senior advisor/analyst in 2022. Guerrieri helped implement Jim Knowles’ defensive scheme during the defensive coordinator’s first season in Columbus.

This will be Guerrieri’s eighth season working with Knowles in total, a man he referred to as “family” multiple times during his interview session on Tuesday. And it helps that he already has relationships with many of the players he’ll now be coaching.

“It’s been great. Again, familiarity,” Guerrieri said. “To be able to know guys, know about their families, they know about you and your story and to be able to have real, authentic relationships, I think that helps. It starts with that. If not, you’re putting in a lot of work just to get to know somebody. And obviously a lot of that is still happening with new faces and things.”

One of the new faces is likely to be the team’s starting adjuster, or field safety. Former Alabama star Caleb Downs is on campus with much aplomb after 247Sports ranked him as the No. 1 player to enter the transfer portal this year. He racked up 107 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four pass breakups as a freshman in the SEC.

“I’ve been impressed with the depth across the board. There’s guys that have played big roles.”– Matt Guerrieri on Ohio State's safety room

Downs has already drawn rave reviews from Ryan Day and Guerrieri certainly wasn’t short on good words to say about the Georgia native.

“When you look at safeties, it’s how fast can they react,” Guerrieri said. “There’s two ways you do that. One is mentally. You guys have met with him already, you see how sharp he is, he can answer questions, articulate. He’s really special from a mental standpoint. Then how fast you can react physically. So if you watch him in agility drills, his body, the functional movement skills are tremendous. So if you have a guy that can respond quickly from a mental and a physical standpoint, I think you’re a step up on guys.”

Jordan Hancock, who is as much a cornerback as he is a safety, figures to round out the starting safety trio at nickel after rotating there to start last season and playing the position full-time by year’s end. In his breakout junior campaign, Hancock gathered 41 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and five pass breakups with a pick-six.

Following the graduation of last year’s starting adjuster Josh Proctor and the transfers of Kye Stokes and Cam Martinez, questions about depth at the position have persisted in some circles. But Guerrieri expressed confidence about Ohio State’s standing there.

Along with Hartford, who Guerrieri noted got significant experience as a freshman last season, there’s also Ja’Had Carter, who was a three-year starter at Syracuse before transferring to Columbus.

Then there’s five-star prospect Sonny Styles, who enters his third season at Ohio State after starting at nickel to begin the 2023 season and finishing the year as the starting bandit following Ransom’s injury. Styles finished the campaign with 53 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

His position for 2024 remains undetermined, as he could move down to linebacker, but he’s at least a depth option if needed at safety.

“He’s a unique combination of ability to run, cover, tackle, mentality, size, he’s got a lot of things and attributes from there,” Guerrieri said. “Without getting into specifics, we’re going to take a look at a number of different things for him and put him in the best position for him to be successful and the team to be successful.”

That leaves redshirt freshmen Jayden Bonsu and Cedrick Hawkins alongside incoming freshmen Jaylen McClain and Leroy Roker to round out Guerrieri’s position room. It’s uncertain who will back up Hancock at nickel, though answers could be found in the cornerback room there. Styles has experience at the spot, as mentioned earlier, while his older brother Lorenzo Styles Jr. is also a candidate to play that position after redshirting last year.

Ohio State’s safety depth chart could come into clearer focus when the Buckeyes begin spring practice on March 5.

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