Safety is often referred to as the quarterback of the defense. That's a plus for Ohio State, because the program saw several top-tier athletes come and go through the position throughout the Jim Tressel era.
When you look over the starters at safety from the 2000s, you'll see talent all across the board. Eight safeties that started for the Buckeyes in the last decade moved on to NFL, either on a 53-man roster or practice squad. Consistency was common. There were few lapses between solid starters here.
That being said, two names easily stood out among the group. Here are some of the candidates.
Donnie Nickey (1999-2002)
Nickey was part of the 2002 title run for the Buckeyes, playing his senior year as a co-captain with Mike Doss. He was a three-year starter at the beginning of the 2000s, and while Doss overshadowed him during their seasons together, Nickey was a consistent performer.
Nate Salley (2002-2005)
Another three-year starter, Salley earned several honors during his playing days, including a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2005. He was also a captain that year, helping the Buckeyes finish with a 10-2 record and an impressive win in the Fiesta Bowl. While he signed with the school as a cornerback, Salley become a reliable defender at safety.
Kurt Coleman (2006-2009)
Coleman started three years at Ohio State (noticing a trend here?). He was a team captain, a great leader and the MVP for the Buckeyes in 2009. An All-American and first-team All-Big Ten player his senior year, Coleman was an aggressive playmaker with a motor that never quit.
But the winners are...
Mike Doss (1999-2002)
Doss isn't just one of the best Buckeyes from the 2000s. He's one of the top safeties to ever come through the program. Reminisce about the 2002 title run with any Ohio State fan and surely an image of Doss leveling an opponent comes to mind.
He led the team in tackles as a sophomore and a junior. He ranks No. 11 in school history with 331 total tackles. He was a first-team All-American for three straight seasons (2000-2002). He was a co-MVP with Craig Krenzel in the Buckeyes championship win against Miami and also a co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year that season. Does his resume speak for itself? I'd say so.
But it wasn't the honors and awards that made Doss stand out. Every game he seemed to make a play to boost the Buckeyes' momentum. He was always in the right place at the right time. Watch some of the old highlight reels from the early 2000s. Doss is all over the place.
Run support was another impressive facet of his game. He constantly met ball-carriers at the line to drive them backwards. Opponents weren't getting away once Doss engaged them.
His decision to come back for his senior year in 2002 played a huge factor in Ohio State's championship campaign. Doss intercepted a deflected pass from Ken Dorsey around the 5:44 mark in the first quarter, setting up the Buckeyes for Craig Krenzel touchdown to tie the game 7-7. There's the spark he brought to the table. Doss was a winner and one of the best they've ever seen at safety.
Donte Whitner (2003-2005)
If Whitner stayed at Ohio State for his senior season, who knows what No. 9 could have accomplished. Another hard-hitter, Whitner made his presence known for the two seasons he started for the Buckeyes.
After seeing plenty of action on special teams as a freshman, Whitner burst onto the scene in 2004, recording 69 tackles and making a name for himself despite an 8-4 year for the Buckeyes. His performance as a junior solidified him as a first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft (No. 8 overall).
Ohio State's defense was stifling in 2005, and Whitner played a major role in that dominance. He recorded 74 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, earning All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors at the end of the year.
College football was raving about Notre Dame's offense all throughout 2005. The Irish ranked No. 8 in the nation in scoring, averaging 36.7 points per game. When Brady Quinn took on the Buckeyes, though, he didn't throw a single touchdown for the first time that season. Whitner was instrumental to keeping Quinn in check. He also came up with a forced fumble.
Would Whitner have changed the outcome by staying for the 2006 national championship against Florida? Probably. The Buckeyes probably would have won by 30. But we can at least admire the two years he stood out in the secondary.
These two are LGHL's picks for the all-decade team. Who would you take?