“Ohio State doesn’t know what to expect out of anyone in its secondary not named Shaun Wade in 2020. There are plenty of potential candidates to emerge. But Proctor may be the only player whose ability could lead to a jump in performance that provides the difference between a national crown or losing in the semifinals again.”
— Stephen Means, cleveland.com
Ohio State doesn’t have many weaknesses heading into the 2020 season, but their secondary is definitely the most questionable. It’s the most questionable because, apart from Shaun Wade, no one really knows anything about the Buckeyes’ backfield.
In an article posted this morning, 247Sports national analyst Budd Elliott picked out every Top 25 team’s biggest challenge— their “Achilles heel”— entering the 2020 season. For Ohio State, it was their pass defense.
“This might not matter during the regular season because the best teams on Ohio State’s schedule (Oregon, Penn State, Michigan) don’t exactly project to have top passing attacks, but Ohio State has to replace a ton in the secondary and up front. Is this going to be a pass defense which can win the Buckeyes a national title?”
A valid question, considering former defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley rarely rotated the secondary last season. It was Jordan Fuller at high-safety, along with three cornerbacks— Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette and Shaun Wade—on the field more often than not. Now, Fuller, Okudah and Arnette are gone, and Kerry Coombs is left with a relatively unexperienced position group (besides Wade).
Ryan Day said during a press conference in January that he and Coombs will likely keep the aforementioned structure this season, which means another single-safety defense.
Enter: Josh Proctor.
Proctor has never started a game at the collegiate level, and has never played more than 20 defensive snaps in a game. However, as Means writes, Ohio State’s chances at a national title now depend on the unexperienced sophomore safety successfully replacing Fuller at the back end. And luckily, when given the opportunity, Proctor has shown that he has the potential to join Wade as a first-rounder in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Remember this beauty from the 2019 Big Ten championship?
Yet another angle of the Josh Proctor hit on Wisconsin QB Jack Coan pic.twitter.com/Z3krqJ29kl— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) December 8, 2019
Last season, in 14 games, Fuller totaled 42 solo tackles, two interceptions, four pass deflects and one fumble recovery. In 13 games (and waaaay fewer snaps) Proctor had 10 solo tackles, one interception and three pass deflects.
Proctor is different to Fuller in that he’s a risk taker. He seeks out turnovers more often than his predecessor, writes Colin Hass-Hill of Eleven Warriors, but that’s not always a good thing. In order to successfully replace, or even surpass, Fuller’s performance, Proctor can’t just be a playmaker. He must be a productive and consistent tackler as well.
“He’s one of the most talented individuals you’ll ever come across in my opinion, in a lot of people’s opinion,” Fuller said of Proctor at the NFL combine. “Just how big he is, how long he is but the speed and agility that comes with it and his competitive nature is off the charts. Really can’t say enough about him and this year especially, he’s really focused a lot more on the playbook and I know that’s gonna keep going in an upper trend so yeah, Josh Proctor, I expect big things and I know he expects big things out of himself too, so I’m really excited for him.”
If Proctor can do “big things” this season, I see no reason why Ohio State’s secondary won’t lead them to a national title. With Wade as the team’s No. 1 corner, Sevyn Banks—who Okudah called “the next great corner at Ohio State” last season, Marcus Williamson, Cameron Brown and Tyreke Johnson must compete for the other two spots. And nothing forces the best out of someone like a good ole fashioned position battle.
Coombs also hasn’t ruled out giving each one of his backs bigger roles than Hafley did last season. He has made it clear that he has “every expectation of getting a lot of guys on the field.”
And if Proctor’s potential, Wade’s return before he becomes a first round draft pick, and a room full of eager DBs striving to get on the field doesn’t make you feel better about Ohio State’s secondary, Elliott also writes that Clemson’s weakness is their “young receivers,” Alabama’s is their “passing game,” Oregon’s is literally whether or not their offense can score at all, and Georgia’s, Oklahoma’s and LSU’s are their new quarterbacks’ ability to learn their offense.... I think we’ll be just fine.