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Film Review: What type of player is Ohio State getting in transfer safety Tanner McCalister?

New transfer Tanner McCalister is bringing a versatile skill set and much needed edge to a defense that lacked physical toughness.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ohio State received a commitment from Oklahoma State from transfer cover safety Tanner McCalister yesterday who brings with him multiple years of experience in Jim Knowles’ system. With the Buckeyes hiring of Jim Knowles, bringing in a player with experience in his defense will pay dividends for Ohio State in the long run.

This past season Ohio State’s defense lacked edge and emotional leadership. McCalister brings both of those to the table, and his ability in that department will be his greatest asset when he arrives in Columbus. Today we’re going to look at how his tenacity shows in the way he plays the position using some of his film. McCalister’s film shows a physical run defender, a solid man-coverage defender, and a true defensive playmaker. Today, we’re going to see what type of player the Buckeyes are getting in the transfer safety.

Run Defense

Ohio State’s cover safety position was best played by Shaun Wade in the 2019 season and a major factor in that was Wade’s willingness to get involved in the run game. McCalister fits that mold, and he plays the position with the necessary physicality needed in the run game.

In the clip below, TCU runs a speed option to the trips side. McCalister (No. 2) is the defensive player lined up over the middle slot receiver and in this scenario he is playing man coverage against the receiver. When the ball is snapped, the TCU receiver tries to run off McCalister, but McCalister identifies run immediately. Rather than flying up field aggressively, McCalister knows he has help inside and that he is the outside contain defender. The outside linebacker plays the back, this forces him outside to McCalister who is in perfect position and makes a physical play behind the line of scrimmage.

Tackling in Space

The first play was a good example of this, but something else we have not seen from the cover safety position is a willingness to take on blocks to make a tackle. In the next play we take a look at McCalister defending a bubble screen against Boise State.

McCalister lines up outside shade of the point in the condensed trips bunch set. In this play, Boises State runs a bubble out of the bunch set and McCalister is responsible for setting the edge. The first blocker tries to get to McCalister’s upfield shoulder, but McCalister is able to fight through the initial block. The second blocker is forced to try to block McCalister, but McCalister out leverages the block and keeps contain. Boise State’s receiver is unable to catch the ball, but we see McCalister fight through blocks and make another physical tackle in space.


The other part to playing cover-safety is coverage ability and McCalister is one of the better inside cover players in college football. In the few plays I saw where McCalister was in man coverage, he played with a solid technique.

Against Texas Tech, McCalister was tested deep multiple times and was able to break up a good chunk of the plays that came his way. In Knowle’s defense the cover safety is often responsible for being the closest cover guy to the line of scrimmage. Texas Tech runs “Four Verticals” and McCalister gets beat by the receiver initially. He keeps his calm, gets his eyes on the receiver, and is able to catch up to the receiver. The quarterback under throws the ball which helps him get back into the play a little bit, but the key here is McCalister finishes through the hands of the receiver breaking up the pass. He shows technique and discipline by trusting his coaching allowing him to make a tough play.

Zone Coverage

The last play we’re going to look at is McCalister in zone coverage, his discipline here and movement within his zone is text book. The Buckeyes this past season had players drop into coverage and stay in their area covering grass allowing receivers to find holes. This is something that will be addressed with Knowles as the defensive coordinator.

Texas lines up in a trips bunch set, we’ve seen in some past film studies how much Ohio State has struggled against bunch sets this season. Texas runs a “Flood” concept, in this play design the point guy runs the short five yard out route, the inside receiver runs the deep fifteen yard art, and the outside receiver runs the vertical. McCalister’s zone responsibility is the flats, in most cases the defender would stay on the five yard out. In this example the out is covered immediately and McCalister has linebacker help inside which allows him to sink. He identifies the out route, is able to undercut the throw from the quarterback, and he makes an awesome play on the football with the interception.


We took a look at some of McCalister’s best plays, but these four plays showed his versatility and the physicality he plays the position with. For the Buckeyes, he brings something to the position we have not seen since Shaun Wade manned it a few seasons ago. His experience in Jim Knowles’ scheme will be a priceless tool when it comes to the transition next season and due to this experience, the Buckeyes will be able to plug and play him immediately.

On top of his scheme experience, McCalister brings a physicality and edge to the position that has been missing from the defense in its entirety. The defense for the Buckeyes this past season also lacked veteran leadership and McCalister brings a ton of experience in that department. His energy and leadership were a key component to the identity of Oklahoma State’s defense.

The Buckeyes are getting a player who wants to play at the highest level and at Ohio State he will have the chance to do that. When the moment comes week one McCalister will be ready to shine for the Buckeyes.