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Will freshman safety Malik Hartford steal a starting job before the end of the season?

Jim Knowles says Malik Hartford is still in the competition to start at one of the safety positions.

Ohio State Spring Football Game Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images

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Starting adjustor Malik Hartford? Sounds crazy to some, but after Jim Knowles spoke highly of him in a recent press conference it may be a reality.

Hartford, a true freshman, was a huge pickup for the Buckeyes, ranked as the number 69th overall player and fifth-best safety in the country. Despite his high ranking and clear talent, no one expected Hartford to contribute early, except maybe Hartford himself. Entering Ohio State, Hartford was expected to be behind Josh Proctor and Ja’Had Carter — two players with multiple years of experience — as well as Kye Stokes, a 2022 commit who flashed early in the spring game.

Despite the players ahead of him, Hartford may be too talented to keep off the field. When asked about the safeties, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles had this to say:

“You’re looking at Josh Proctor, Malik Hartford, and Ja’Had Carter. Those three are fighting it out for that other position. Between the three of them, they’ll play there and also back up Lathan [Ransom].”

This was the first time Knowles has given any indication that Hartford could be a major factor in 2023. With camp at its end, Knowles wasn’t being coy by bringing up Hartford, he is absolutely in the running for a starting position in his freshman year.

Being a freshman contributor at Ohio State is a major feat, but it’s even more impressive to potentially be a starter. Last season, Knowles and the safeties room talked about how complicated his defense is on safeties, and Knowles has mentioned multiple times you have to be smart to play safety for him. At adjustor that is even more important, because the adjustor, as the name states, must make adjustments for the entire defense and is expected to make his teammates right even if they’re wrong.

That is a lot of pressure for any player, so for Hartford to be in a position to grab a starting spot, he has to be special on the field and in the meeting room. Week 1 I expect Carter to be the starting adjustor, but before the end of the season, whether due to injury or belief from the coaching staff, Hartford is going to secure his sport at starting adjustor and hold it down for the next two to three years.

The Buckeyes got a stud in Hartford, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s a household name.

Connect with Jordan on Twitter: @JordanW330