The Buckeyes went into the transfer portal and landed Syracuse safety Ja’Had Carter after the 2022 season ended. Ohio State was losing their starting free safety and starting nickel safety, and they needed as many options as possible in replacing them.
Carter’s versatility made him a valued portal target. As a three-year starter for the Orange, Carter has played all over in the backfield, including both as a deep safety and as a slot/nickel defender. His experience is exactly what the Buckeyes were looking for.
But it was going to take more than just experience for both parties to be all in.
“First and foremost, the relationship. It’s about relationships. That’s kind of how it started,” safeties coach Perry Eliano said this week. “He saw there was a need. There was great chemistry between me and him. He came in, he wasn’t here very long, but we hit it off. He understands, he wants to be developed. And that’s where we do our best work, in developing young men on and off the field. I’m excited he’s here. We just had 6:30 workouts this morning and he was doing a good job. And so I’m excited about what he’s going to continue to do this offseason and going into spring ball.”
Get To Work
Offseason workouts have begun for the Buckeyes, including those who have joined via the portal. This is the first step for each of the newcomers to not only gain their footing, but establish themselves as productive teammates.
So far, that’s exactly what Ja’Had Carter has done.
“Workmanlike,” Eliano described Carter so far. “He’s got his head down and he’s working. Once again, he came here because he wanted to be developed to be the very best. He understands the task that’s at hand. It’s a competition, and the old adage that iron sharpens iron, and so far he’s done a great job. He’s just put his head down and worked. And that’s all I asked. He came here for a reason. He came here, one, to be the very best he can be; two, to win a championship, and also to put himself in the very best position he can going on to the next level.”
With the Buckeyes returning a small handful of deep safeties, like Lathan Ransom, Josh Proctor, Kye Stokes, and Sonny Styles, the thought is that Carter was brought in to contend for the vacated nickel position with Cameron Martinez.
Martinez was the backup to starter Tanner McCalister in 2022, but to this point, there are no guarantees.
“Right now, everybody’s in an evaluation period,” Eliano said. “I’m gonna put the best players on the field to make us the very best we can be, not only in the back end, but as a defense, and as a team. Everybody knows it’s safety driven defense. Everybody has their own little niche. But as a safety group, we’ve got to be able to do more than one thing. So, right now, we’re still in the evaluation process. And it’s a fluid situation.”
Versatility Is A Must
The versatility of the safety group will certainly provide ample opportunities for mixing and matching. In defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ defense, the safeties can change duties depending on the strength of the offense. The free safety handles the wide side of the field, the strong safety handles the short side, and the nickel handles the slot or strong side. However, with some motion by the offense, now the strength has switched to the other side, which means the defensive duties have also switched.
“I love the interchangeability of the safeties. I do,” Knowles said. “Because formations flip. All of a sudden, it’s formation into the boundary. Now, guys take on different roles. Things happen all the time. So as much flexibility as you can have at the safety position, the better.”
The Buckeye coaches will get a good, long look in the spring at what they have at safety. Perry Eliano believes he’s got a pretty good idea at what the starting trio will look like. And based on the overall versatility of the group, Knowles believes there is a chance that this group will be even more interchangeable than last year’s squad.
“I think there’s a chance,” Knowles said. “Particularly as you move around, now guys continue to understand the system. I think there’s a real chance for us to be even more flexible.”
Everybody knows the Ohio State defense needs to finish better than it did last year. Who knows, maybe a little added flexibility on the defense will be just what the doctor ordered to keep it from breaking as often as it did in 2022.