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You’re Nuts: What should Ohio State’s starting secondary be this season?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

NCAA Football: Ohio State Practice Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: What should Ohio State’s starting secondary be this season?

Jami’s Take:

Ohio State’s secondary really struggled during the 2020 season after losing Jordan Fuller to the NFL, and while they are potentially facing some issues off the bat this fall, this could be an area that improves drastically from the beginning of the season to the end of it. The coaches spent a lot of time working on the backend during spring practice, so while some questions remain around whether certain players’ experience, as well as whether players like Cameron Brown are fully recovered from injuries, OSU has the opportunity to become an elite pass defense once again. There are also still some questions around how the Buckeyes will align their base secondary this year, which could impact the starting lineup. But as it stands currently, here is who should be starting for the Buckeyes’ secondary this season:

Cornerback: Sevyn Banks

Banks was solid during the 2020 season, and he is looking to have a breakout year this fall even after missing most of spring camp with an injury. He has good size and speed, which makes him a threat to opposing offenses, and if working with defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs again has helped him mature as a player, he has the potential to join the ranks of OSU’s elite cornerbacks of days gone by.

Cornerback: Denzel Burke

While Cameron Brown will likely start in this role, I would actually like to see the job go to Denzel Burke, the four-star prospect out of Scottsdale, Arizona. After Brown’s 2020 season was cut short due to an Achilles tear, it’s unclear how healthy he really is heading into this year. For Burke, his preseason camp seems to have put to bed any notions that he didn’t have enough experience at cornerback. He’s been breaking up passes left and right and has spent time working with the first-string defense. I’d like to see him step in as a starter and a real playmaker for the Buckeyes this season.

Slot Cornerback / Safety: Lathan Ransom

Ransom was a surprise factor last season after an impressive freshman season at nickel cornerback. He held his own in playoff games against Clemson and Alabama, and he’s spent time during the offseason focused on his physique. With his size working in his favor now, he looks to have improved upon his momentum from last year and should be a key player in the secondary this year.

Safety: Josh Proctor

Proctor is a big hitter who checks all the physical boxes for the Buckeyes at safety. Going into his third year with the team, he will need more mental toughness, but he’s done a lot of work to improve communication, and he looks poised to explode this season. Though he will need to be much more consistent this year than last, he has emerged as a leader and is certainly a better option than Marcus Hooker, who Proctor replaced toward the end of last season. If he’s improved on the intangibles, he could transform into a true eraser on the back end.

Matt’s Take:

I am still up in the air as to how good the Buckeyes’ 2021 defensive secondary will be, I am fairly confident that they will take a step forward, but how big of one is yet to be seen. With having to replace multiple starters, incorporating a new scheme, and Kerry Coombs finally having a normal offseason to institute his defensive vision, things could go very well, or they could go very poorly.

In the two years in which Coombs was off working in the NFL, the OSU secondary recruiting took a substantial dip thanks to the like of Alex Grinch and Taver Johnson. Fortunately, however, in 2019, Jeff Hafley came to town and the Buckeyes began to recruit like the #BIA that they had been for years; that tradition has continued with Coombs back at the helm.

So, as I mentioned on an episode of “Hangout in the Holy Land” this summer, the Buckeyes should turn to that young talent and allow them to to take the lead in terms of the defense this season.

My thoughts are that the secondary sucked last year, so unless there is a compelling reason (injury, significant development, no better option, etc.) I would far prefer to have young guys take over, rather than more veteran players who weren’t good enough to play or make a major difference last year.

So, at the bullet position (which didn’t really exist last year), I would go with Craig Young. He seems to be the prime candidate to play the linebacker/cornerback hybrid position. However, I have been fascinated by the hype around Kourt Williams since he arrived on campus last year. I know that his injury in the last week of camp in 2020 has put him behind the 8-ball, but I am excited to see what he (and Ronnie Hickman) look like backing up Young.

It is more than likely at this point that Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown will be the Buckeyes’ outside corners, and I think that is the right call. Banks was by no means great last year, but he did show flashes last season, and he is the one veteran of the CB crew, which can be valuable. Brown is coming back from an injury, and — assuming his fully healthy — looked like he had the speed and skill to be a difference-maker before going down last year. So, while I don’t love going with vets at these crucial spots, I do think that there is reason to give them the benefit of the doubt to start the season.

However, the rest of the secondary is where I would start making changes. Thanks to some impressive flashes late in the 2020 season, I think that it would be criminal for anyone other than Lathan Ransom to play the cover safety/slot corner position. He is young, but incredibly talented, and deserves the opportunity to show why he was so highly recruited.

From there, I would take Marcus Williamson — who would be surpassed by Ransom for the slot position — and put him in as the nickel back. He is a returning starter, so he gets the first crack at it, but he would have a very short leash if I were the d-cor. Cam Martinez would be waiting in the wings to replace Williamson, should his performance not improve.

Then at free safety, I know that Josh Proctor will obviously be the IRL starter, but I would go with true freshman Jantzen Dunn. He only recently lost his black stripe, so not the most encouraging sign for someone who has been on campus since late 2020, but between Proctor, Marcus Hooker, and Bryson Shaw, I just don’t have much — if any — confidence in the veteran free safeties on the roster.

Hooker started in 2020 before giving way to Proctor, who was admittedly better; but dramatically so. Then, Hooker received his second, lengthy suspension and missed the entire spring. Shaw is a former three-star recruit who got all of 30 snaps a season ago.

In a mix of bad options, give me the young guy. He might not have the best grip on the defense, but do any of the vets? And if you start Dunn, he has at least three years of playing time to continue to develop into the type of safety that the Buckeye defense deserves.


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