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 is the key gap you think Ohio State needs to fill during spring practice?
Jami’s Take: Safeties
Spring football is a time for hope. The slate is washed clean. Possibility is in the air. As fans, it can feel like we’re always on the cusp of the perfect season.
But in order for the season to go the way fans hope it will, spring football is also a time for fixing issues and filling gaps — before our opponents can exploit them in games.
This season (and not for the first time in recent memory), it is absolutely crucial for the Buckeyes to figure out their starting safeties and make the position group airtight. The safety dance might famously be for Men Without Hats, but it’s also for men with helmets, my friends.
There’s a gap at safety for several reasons, the obvious one being that only one starting safety is returning this year. Barring insane unforeseen circumstances, Lathan Ransom will start for the second year in a row. Ransom, a fourth year, filled the Bandit safety position last season — and he returns with something to prove.
Because the second gap is performance. After a series of high-profile failures in high stakes games last season, including a notable one by Ransom (OK, I know I said the slate is washed clean. But we don’t forget, even if we forgive), both defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and safeties coach Perry Eliano need to use spring football to ensure the safeties aren’t a weak link.
If you’ll recall, TTUN scored a huge 75-yard touchdown when Michigan wideout Cameron Johnson was able to get OSU safety Cameron Martinez tangled up.
Now, the safeties were certainly not the only issue in the Michigan game last season (see also: a defensive breakdown much larger than the safeties), but this play in particular was one that should have been executed better, and it essentially gift-wrapped that touchdown for our archrivals.
But perhaps the more memorable of the high-profile slipups was Ransom himself, quite literally slipping on a game-changing play in the Peach Bowl against Georgia. Ransom’s missed play came on a 76-yard touchdown pass to Bulldogs’ wide receiver Arian Smith in a game the Buckeyes lost by a mere one point. And let’s be honest, had we won that game, we would probably have a National Championship trophy to show for last season. So this was costly. It was also disappointing from a player who had a strong regular season and came to be a steady force for the defense.
These high-stakes errors can’t happen again, certainly not if the Buckeyes want to be title contenders. Heck, they can’t happen if we want to beat Michigan (please God, I can’t handle a three-peat). Spring football is the time to fill this gap. It will require some puzzling — which pieces are the right pieces, and how do they fit in the most effective way?
With Ransom seemingly a lock in the starting position and hopefully ready for redemption, that leaves OSU with three more starters to decide on.
It remains to be seen whether Ransom will remain in the Bandit position or whether he will move to free safety, where some have said he’s a more natural fit. This could pave the way for Josh Proctor or Sonny Styles to fill the Bandit role.
Proctor, returning for his sixth season of eligibility (taking advantage of the additional year provided to any college athlete in 2020), began 2022 as the starting strong safety but was replaced by Ransom after a major mistake led to a 54-yard touchdown on OSU’s opening defensive play of the Notre Dame game.
Styles, for his part, was part of the 2022 recruiting class. The son of former Buckeye linebacker Lorenzo Styles, is very much in the mix for the starting job, and spring could be his time to step up.
Meanwhile, Martinez, a senior, still has something to prove from the Michigan game, along with Kye Stokes, a sophomore who could be ready to shine. It also remains to be seen how newcomers Malik Hartford and Ja’Had Carter factor in, with Carter, a transfer from Syracuse, being discussed as a possible starter in the Nickel slot, where he played with success on his previous team.
It’s not just the players who we’re keeping an eye on though. Eliano and Knowles need to make sure that wherever they land on the starting lineup, each of the positions is well-equipped to be playmakers even in the highest stakes’ situations. All eyes are on Knowles this year, and the safeties’ collapse in the big games is one of the key reasons.
The safeties cannot (and frankly, with this talent, should not) be the weak link, and it is in everyone’s best interest to make this gap a focal point for spring football so as not to be caught sleeping come fall.
Matt’s Take: Cornerbacks
Jami’s on the right path, the correct answer is in the secondary, but it’s clearly the cornerbacks, not the safeties; and if you don’t want to take my word for it, in our most recent LGHL Asks poll, Buckeye fans agreed by an overwhelming margin.
I feel fairly comfortable in saying that the cornerbacks were the worst position group last season for the Buckeyes and that they really need to improve in order for OSU to get back to where they need to be. The team entered the 2022 season with only six scholarship players in the room, and then the top three of them all sustained injuries of varying severity during fall camp. So, that meant that a position that was already markedly undermanned would be even more inexperienced and untested. The injuries to the CBs ebbed and flowed last year, but the group never seemed to gel. However, I do think that there is talent there.
Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock are both back, and if they are healthy, that is a good pair of guys to have at the top of the rotation. Ohio State brought in former Freshman All-American Davison Igbinosun from Ole Miss — even though the Buckeyes currently have him listed as a safety — but he should be an important addition to the cornerback room. He is a big guy with experience facing off with some of the best wide receivers in the country.
When you mix in talented young guys like Jyaire Brown, Jermaine Mathews Jr., and Ryan Turner you might just have the makings of a decent room. I still think they are a quality guy or two short of being in an ideal situation, but I understand the difficulties of roster management might not allow them to add another CB to the room.
So, over the course of the next 13 practices, I am anxious to hear how Burke and Hancock rebound from disappointing 2022 seasons, how Igbinosun fits in with the Buckeye scheme and plans, and if the younger, less experienced CBs can push for playing time. There are obviously other areas of the team that need attention and improvement, but if the corners can take a major step forward in 2023, that is a huge bonus for the Buckeyes.
Who has the right answer to today’s question?