Caleb Downs

Ryan Day On Caleb Downs: ‘My Goodness, It’s Gonna Be Good’

The Ohio State defense returns eight starters from last season, and four other defenders with starting experience. They also add 2023 Freshman All-American safety Caleb Downs, who transferred to OSU from Alabama.

It has been well-documented the impact Downs had last year for the Crimson Tide, starting all 14 games at free safety as a true freshman. He led the team with 107 tackles.

The Buckeyes finished second in Downs’ recruitment a year ago, but now he could fit right in at free safety where a starting spot has been vacated by sixth-year senior Josh Proctor leaving for the NFL.

After missing out on Downs as a high school recruit, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day is thrilled to have him on the Buckeye defense now.

You saw what he did as a freshman,” Day said recently. “To say we’re all excited to have him part of the program is an understatement. He brings a lot to the table, you guys will learn that. I won’t get into all that right now, but his talent is exceptional. He’s already created unbelievable amount of discipline in his life. He’s created the skills to play the safety position at a high level.”

When he transferred in, Downs was seen as the possible final piece of the puzzle for the Buckeye defense. Ohio State may have the best pair of cornerbacks in the country in Denzel Burke and Davison Igbinosun. Both could be first-round draft picks in the 2025 NFL Draft.

Starting nickel backs Sonny Styles and Jordan Hancock both return, as does starting strong safety Lathan Ransom. Ransom and Hancock both put the NFL off for a year in order to come back and be part of the 2024 Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes also got a couple of starts out of freshman cornerback Jermaine Mathews, Jr. and freshman safety Malik Hartford. This is a deep and talented group, made only better by the presence of Caleb Downs.

“But I’ll tell you, it’s fun, because that secondary, I mean, they’re competitive now, like, they’re not going to take a backseat to anybody,” Day said. “So everyone sat up a little straighter when he walked in, and that was good, but they embraced him. He knows those guys through the recruiting process. So it’s going to be some great competition this spring. He is very, very talented. What did he have, 107 tackles as a freshman in the SEC? So, I mean, my goodness, it’s gonna be fun.”

It is pretty easy to just pencil Downs in at free safety. The Buckeyes have an opening there. It’s the spot he played at Alabama. The familiarity and talent combined with the fact that Ohio State went into the portal to get him says that he will be in the starting lineup for the Buckeyes this coming season.

Day didn’t anoint him as such yet, but did acknowledge that Downs isn’t likely to cede the job to anybody else.

“Well, I mean, 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 got to come and compete. You got to earn it. Nothing’s gonna be given. Nothing ever has been given. I mean, that goes back to when Justin came in, Justin Fields, I mean, he had to go earn it. And we’re not going to change that here at Ohio State.”

Filling the free safety spot with Caleb Downs is simple enough. The math works perfectly, but his command of the game will allow Day and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to take that simplicity and make things very complicated for the opponent from week to week.

“He’s tremendously talented and, we’re excited to make sure that we give him as many opportunities as he possibly can in all different areas, too,” Day said. “You saw him as a punt returner. I watched him play in the high school game against Buford and he was running the ball, and so we even talked about that. You know, maybe lining him up in different things, so there’ll be a lot of opportunity next year for Caleb Downs.”

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