Welcome to Leaders of the Room — one of a few recurring themes we will be visiting here at Land-Grant Holy Land to help you prepare for the upcoming season. With Ohio State’s preseason camp supposed to be underway this week, now is a good time to start taking a deep dive into the depth chart to find out who the Buckeyes will turn to at each position as they look for leaders both on and off the field in 2020.
Today’s unit: the safeties
The last few years, Ohio State has had the luxury of not having to worry about who they were going to trot out at safety. The man at the back of the defense has been Jordan Fuller, who finished in the top-three on the team in each of the last three seasons. In 2018, Fuller was named second team All-Big Ten. Last season, Fuller was even better, earning first team All-Big Ten honors.
All good things must come to an end though. Fuller exhausted his college eligibility, leaving a hole at safety for Ohio State to try and fill. For a while it looked like Brendon White would be the next man up at safety, especially after his performance in the second half of 2018, but White entered the transfer portal in December, landing with former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Also transferring out of the program was Isaiah Pryor, who decided to continue his career at Notre Dame.
No matter who ends up starting at safety for the Buckeyes, expect an injection of energy into the group, as former secondary coach Kerry Coombs has returned to Ohio State’s coaching staff to not only hold the same position, but to also add co-defensive coordinator to his job title. Coombs will replace Jeff Hafley, who took the head coaching position at Boston College after one season in Columbus. Once Hafley announced he was leaving, it only made sense that head coach Ryan Day would try to lure Coombs back to Columbus after he spent a couple seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
With the talent Ohio State has at cornerback, the Buckeyes can get away with playing with just one safety on the field, which is good because the Buckeyes are a little short when it comes to depth at safety, especially after the transfers of White and Pryor. With having guys like Shaun Wade, Cameron Brown, and Sevyn Banks at corner, it allows the Buckeyes to not have to force two safeties on the field, instead letting the best athletes try and make life miserable for opposing wide receivers and quarterbacks.
Josh Proctor will get the first crack at replacing Fuller at safety. While Fuller was a little more reserved, preferring to clean up any messes that got behind his teammates ahead of him, we’ll likely see Proctor take more chances at the position. Proctor had an interception last season, but could have had a couple more, as he registered three passes defensed on the season.
In his limited time on the field, Proctor did have some ups-and-downs as a sophomore. The most notable play for Proctor came on the final play of the Big Ten Championship Game, where he punished Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan with a heavy hit. Ohio State’s opponents in 2020 will have to be aware of where Proctor is on the field at all times, or else they could suffer the same fate as Coan.
The most dubious play of the 2019 season came in the Fiesta Bowl. In the second quarter, Shaun Wade was ejected after he was called for a controversial targeting penalty for a hit on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Proctor was thrust into the action to try and cover for the loss of Wade, but the bright lights weren’t kind to him. On the next drive, Lawrence was able to outrun Proctor for a 67-yard touchdown that got Clemson right back into the game.
The four-star safety from Oklahoma will now try and put the performance against Clemson behind him. There’s no doubt about the talent that Proctor possesses, as he earned high praise from Fuller, Wade and a number of other teammates of his in the secondary. We have seen glimpses of the incredible athleticism that Proctor possesses, now it’s time to see Proctor in an expanded role, as he didn’t play more than 20 snaps in a game last season.
Even though change can sometimes be hard to come to grips with, don’t fear the changing of the guard at safety for Ohio State. While the Buckeyes will certainly miss what Fuller brought to the table, fans will likely be very happy with what they see out of Proctor once he is on the field more consistently. Comparisons have projected Proctor as a Malik Hooker-type talent, which is wild to imagine when Marcus Hooker, Malik’s brother, is sitting behind Proctor on the depth chart.
The group at safety is pretty thin right now, which makes Proctor an easy choice for the leader of the group. Expect a lot out of Proctor this year, as some teams might think they can pick on the new safety because he doesn’t have as much experience as some of the other Buckeye defensive backs. Opponents are going to find out quickly that isn’t the case, and they’ll have to give Proctor the same respect that they give to Wade, Banks, and the other Ohio State defenders.