Lathan Ransom
Football

Spring Preview: Safeties Will Be A Strength For The Buckeyes

Overview

The Buckeyes return five players with starting experience at their three safety spots, and also add in Alabama transfer Caleb Downs who started all 14 games at free safety for the Crimson Tide last year as a true freshman. Fifth-year senior Lathan Ransom is back, as is senior nickel back Jordan Hancock.

Fifth-year senior Ja’Had Carter returns for his second season at Ohio State after starting 27 games all over the secondary in three years at Syracuse. Sophomore Malik Hartford can play either deep spot, and junior Sonny Styles may be the most versatile defender on the Ohio State roster.

Scholarship Roster

Lathan Ransom, rSr, 6-1 210
Opted to return for a fifth year after an injury cost him the back end of 2023.
Jordan Hancock, Sr, 6-1 185
Arguably the Buckeyes’ most underrated defender last year at nickel.
Sonny Styles, Jr, 6-4 230
Started out at nickel, then replaced Lathan Ransom at strong safety.
Ja’Had Carter, GSr, 6-1 203
Valuable reserve last year as he learned Jim Knowles’ defense.
Caleb Downs, Soph, 6-0 203
Second-Team All-American last year as a true freshman.
Cedrick Hawkins, rFr, 5-11 182
Could end up at any of the three safety spots.
Jayden Bonsu, rFr, 6-1 205
Big hitter who will get his first spring action as a Buckeye.
Malik Hartford, Soph, 6-2 194
Would be favorite at free safety if not for transfer of Caleb Downs.
Jaylen McClain, Fr, 6-0 185
Already enrolled, so will be interesting see where he is slotted.
Miles Lockhart, Fr, 5-10 185
Part of the cornerback room but recruited to play the nickel.
Leroy Roker, Fr, 6-1 175
Won’t be in until June but has play-making skills.

For Starters

Where to begin. Strong safety Lathan Ransom returns and brings his 20 career starts with him. That number would be larger if not for injuries. Sonny Styles started 12 games as a sophomore last year — with seven coming at nickel and five at strong safety. Jordan Hancock started the final seven games last year. As mentioned, Caleb Downs started all 14 games at Alabama last year and he is expected to win the free safety job this year. Malik Hartford earned a pair of starts last year, and fifth-year senior Ja’Had Carter has more starts than all of them. All told, there are over 80 starts from the Ohio State safeties.

New Additions

Caleb Downs is the start of the group here. He won a starting job on a Nick Saban defense as a true freshman, so there probably doesn’t need to be anymore said. However, Downs also led the Tide with 107 tackles last year and earned All-SEC honors and was a Freshman All-American last year. He should step in perfectly for departed free safety starter Josh Proctor. True freshman Jaylen McClain will end up somewhere at safety. He is already enrolled. Incoming freshman Leroy Roker won’t be in until this summer. Freshman Miles Lockhart is already enrolled but will spend most of his time in the cornerback room.

Spring Depth Chart

Nickel

7Jordan Hancock OR
6Sonny Styles
NAMiles Lockhart

Free Safety

NACaleb Downs
25Malik Hartford
26Cedrick Hawkins

Strong Safety

8Lathan Ransom
6Sonny Styles
14Ja’Had Carter
21Jayden Bonsu
NAJaylen McClain

What’s The Latest

Conversations are being finalized on what Sonny Styles will be doing this spring. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, his days at safety are numbered, but who exactly is doing the numbering? There is a linebacker job open, which wouldn’t be totally out of the ordinary for him since he’s played a de facto Sam linebacker at times in each of his first two years on campus. Given his overall skill set, however, it probably isn’t necessary to pigeonhole him into one single spot. He did various things last year and will again this year, but all eyes will be on Styles on Tuesday when spring camp opens — and every day after — to see if he is warming up with the safeties or the linebackers.

Expectations

Lathan Ransom suffered a lower leg injury against Wisconsin last year and missed the final five games of the year. He is back to being full go this spring, however, which is great news for an Ohio State defense that is expected to be one of the best in the nation this year. Normally, a player with Ransom’s experience wouldn’t need too much work in the spring, especially coming off of an injury, but will he be in line for more playing time this spring so he and Caleb Downs can begin to build the communications skills that are necessary for all secondaries?

One Question Needing An Answer

Regardless of what happens with Sonny Styles this spring, one question that needs answered is who is Jordan Hancock’s backup at nickel? Styles was the nickel on running downs most of the season last year, then would give way to Hancock on passing downs. But we don’t yet know who would be the next guy in on passing downs should something happen to Hancock. That may be a job that is wide open this spring, and it may not be limited to just the players listed above. Hancock comes from the cornerback room, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the same for his backup. Could it be talented sophomore Jermaine Mathews, Jr., or is he too close to being involved outside that they don’t want him to be spread too thin? Can one of the young safeties like Cedrick Hawkins do it? Even with the depth at the top, there are still plenty of jobs available at safety this spring.

Breakout Candidate

Caleb Downs isn’t the only safety on Ohio State’s roster who started multiple games last year as a true freshman. Malik Hartford got starts against Youngstown State and Michigan State last year, making him the first true freshman safety to start a game at Ohio State since Vonn Bell in the Orange Bowl against Clemson in January of 2013. This will be Hartford’s second spring at Ohio State. Some players might take a step back after seeing somebody like Downs brought in but Hartford will likely keep the same mentality going that allowed him to earn so much playing time last season. A year of experience should lead to a big spring for the sophomore from Cincinnati.


Previous

Defensive Tackle: Buckeyes Surround Returning Starters With Youth

Offensive Line: Buckeyes Much Deeper Than They Were A Year Ago

Defensive Ends: Ohio State Defensive Ends Just Getting Started

Tight Ends: Buckeye Tight Ends Have Big Shoes To Fill

Linebackers: Two New Starters Must Be Found

Running Backs: Thunder, Lightning, And More

Cornerbacks: Deep, Talented, And Competitive

Wide Receivers: Not As Deep But Still Plenty Talented


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