The Buckeyes must replace two starting safeties from last season, which is no small task in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ safety-driven defense.
Free safety Ronnie Hickman and nickel safety Tanner McCalister are gone. Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor split the season as the starting strong safety, and both players are back this season to provide experience and options.
Proctor started the season as the No. 1 strong safety, but eventually gave way to Ransom. Both are experienced enough and talented enough to win a job this spring, but they are not alone. Cameron Martinez was McCalister’s backup last year as a redshirt freshman, and has three career starts to his credit.
The Buckeyes also added Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter, who was a three-year starter for the Orange.
The experience is a plus, but the versatility is the must.
“I want guys that can do multiple things so we can keep the offense who’s trying to scout us off balance,” said OSU safeties coach Perry Eliano. “Plus, I want to play to our strengths. I want to play to each and every individual’s strengths, and then where they’re challenged, you’ve got to continue to bridge the gap. And so that’s what’s exciting for me. And that’s the part of the experimental part in the spring that, hey, you know, there may be days where we try some different things. Because we do want to play with different combinations to see what fits the best and what’s going to give us the very best advantages as we go into fall.”
The experimentation this spring will also involve rising sophomores Kye Stokes and Sonny Styles, who both shined at different points last year. Stokes was a bright spot in the spring, while Styles suited up for a major role in the Ohio State defense against Georgia in the College Football Playoffs.
With Ransom, Proctor, Martinez, Carter, Styles, and Stokes, the Buckeyes have experience, talent, and versatility. They have a number of different moving parts, but Eliano can see how they’ll all fit together.
“I’ve got a pretty good idea,” he said a few weeks ago. “But also what the spring allows you to do is experiment with some different things because you’re preparing to win the Big Ten. And then you’re preparing to go off and play in the playoffs and win a national championship. So understanding our personnel better allows you to do that going into year two of spring ball.
“The other thing is they know the system now, so there’s some nuances that we can add or subtract. But also, you do have a chance in the spring to experiment now. Now that they’ve been around me for a year, I’ve been around them, they know how I move. I know how they move. And so that’s what’s exciting for me in year two, spring two, is having the ability now to say ‘okay, hey, today, let’s do this.’ ‘Hey, today, let’s do this,’ because it’s our job as coaches to kind of have some forethought for what’s to come in the future.”
Having that forethought — as well as having six guys with playing experience — gives Eliano the aforementioned idea of how things are going to shake out. Or at least how they’re going to start.
And so that nobody is caught off guard during the spring and beyond, the conversations are up front and ongoing.
“You be proactive,” Eliano said. “Those tough conversations have been had already. So everybody understands exactly where they’re at. Everybody understands exactly what’s expected of them individually and expected of them in the room. So it makes the transition, the process going into offseason, the process going into spring ball, a lot easier and there’s more flow because we have clear and concise and direct conversations ahead of time. And so that’s the way I like it. That’s the way our room is. It’s open. And so I don’t foresee there being any issues. Everybody understands exactly what’s in front of them. Now it’s time to go get it.”
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