The Buckeyes must replace departed starters Ronnie Hickman and Tanner McCalister, as well as three others who transferred out before or after last season. This is not necessarily a deep group, but there is experience and potential. Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor combined for the 13 starts at strong safety last year. One of those two will likely be moving to free safety. The other will be competing against talented sophomore Sonny Styles for a starting job. Cameron Martinez will be one of the possibilities at nickel replacing Tanner McCalister. He has three career starts, including one last year. Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter will be a candidate at nickel as well. Sophomore Kye Stokes is athletic enough to do just about whatever is asked of him.
Lathan Ransom, 6-1 205, Sr
Starter at strong safety last year, makes sense at free safety this year.
Josh Proctor, 6-2 205, SSr
Opening-day starter at safety in 2021 and 2022, so don’t count him out.
Sonny Styles, 6-4 222, Soph
Had a role in the playoff game against Georgia as a true freshman.
Ja’Had Carter, 6-2 198, Sr
Transfer from Syracuse who can play any of the three safety positions.
Cameron Martinez, 5-10 190, rJr
Valuable reserve the previous two seasons, looking for a starting job in 2023.
Kye Stokes, 6-1 190, Soph
Impressed early in camp as a true freshman; can play all three safety spots.
Kourt Williams, 6-1 220, rJr
Will miss spring with an injury, which has been the story of his career so far.
Malik Hartford, 6-3 180, Fr
True freshman who is on campus and could play either deep safety spot.
Senior Lathan Ransom makes the most sense as OSU’s free safety. The other option would be sophomore Kye Stokes, who doesn’t have nearly as much experience but arguably has more potential. Josh Proctor has eight career starts, and has started games in each of the past three seasons. Like Stokes, Sonny Styles may not have as much experience, but few would argue that he doesn’t possess more potential than Proctor. Cam Martinez and Ja’Had Carter both have starting experience in the slot at nickel. Carter was a three-year starter at Syracuse. It is a talented group that must play much better than it did a year ago.
Ja’Had Carter comes to Ohio State from Syracuse where he has started 26 games over his first three seasons. Carter could be a plug-and-play replacement for Tanner McCalister at nickel. The nickel position needs to be able to defend slot receivers in man coverage, but also shift to a deep safety at times depending on the offense’s pre-snap motions. Carter is a guy who has experience doing all of that and more. He also has the size at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds to defend all types. True freshman Malik Hartford is also a new face. At 6-foot-3, he’s a long prospect who has made a name as a big hitter as well.
Spring Depth Chart
Free Safety/Field Safety/Adjuster
|Lathan Ransom, Sr
|Kye Stokes, Soph
|Malik Hartford, Fr
Strong Safety/Boundary Safety/Bandit
|Sonny Styles, Soph OR
|Josh Proctor, SSr
|Kourt Williams, rJr (Inj.)
|Cameron Martinez, rJr OR
|Ja’Had Carter, Sr
|Kye Stokes, Soph
What’s the Latest?
Josh Proctor surprised folks when he decided to return for his sixth year. He brings with him plenty of experience, but his presence may also cloud some things for safeties coach Perry Eliano. What could have been a youth movement now stays murky, but in a good way. The more options the better for a secondary still looking to be the solution rather than a problem. Kourt Williams won’t be available this spring, which is unfortunate for him considering the other options with his skill set. So much will depend on where Ja’Had Carter ultimately ends up. He may be the first or last domino, but his push is going to be felt by somebody.
The simplest expectation is the one detailed in the depth chart above. Lathan Ransom brings range and experience to free safety. Sonny Styles brings size, athleticism, and versatility to strong safety. And Ja’Had Carter does the same at nickel. Depending on the down and distance, Carter and Styles can simply swap positions in order to get Styles closer to the line of scrimmage. If teams want to run up-tempo and eliminate OSU’s defensive rotation, then put in a lineup that can handle any kind of formation. Of course, that’s much easier said than done. And really, Styles is the key to all of that, so whoever else is playing doesn’t really matter. As long as they can cover and tackle consistently, it will be an upgrade.
One Question Needing An Answer
Can this group stop giving up big plays, and if they’re about to do that this spring, is that bad news for the offense or good news for the defense? And on the flip side, if they can’t stop giving up big plays this spring, is that good news for the offense or bad news for the defense?
Sonny Styles is the betting favorite here. He is a unique athlete with a unique 6-foot-4 and 222-pound frame. The fact that he skipped his senior year of high school, enrolled a year early, and was on the field against Georgia in the College Football Playoffs is not normal. As such, it would seem safe to assume that Styles himself is not normal. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said Styles will be somewhere, which is a statement with a number of possibilities. Against Georgia, he was used as an outside linebacker. If he can shift from deep safety to linebacker snap to snap, he could give this Ohio State defense some versatility, but also some unpredictability, which wouldn’t be all that bad.