It is a mystery that nobody seems particularly intent on solving.

Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley was stumped by it.

The man himself, Shaun Wade, had no answer.

Wade is considered a vital player in Ohio State’s secondary. But what position best describes the redshirt sophomore’s role?

“That is a good question,” Hafley said.

Wade was no more definitive.

“I don’t know,” he said with a laugh. “I couldn’t tell you.”

It’s a credit to Wade’s versatility that there is no easy answer. His primary role could be as a nickel cornerback, lining up against the opponent’s slot receiver. With Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette the starters at outside cornerback, the Buckeyes need a reliable inside corner who can cover a receiver, be effective against the run or even be used to blitz.

When Okudah and Arnette need a breather or Arnette is deemed a better fit to defend the slot receiver, Wade certainly can play the outside spot.

“Shaun's a really smart football player,” Hafley said, “and he's really instinctive. So when he plays inside, he sees things well, so he's good against the run. He's good against the pass and things move faster in there. And he can react quickly, mentally and physically, which is awesome. So from that aspect, I think he's a good player inside.

“I also think he has a size, length and speed to play on the outside. So I think he's a really good combination. I know I'm kind of riding the fence a little, but I think he's good at both. And I think he'll continue to develop at both.”

But Wade isn’t even limited to cornerback. He also has the skills and frame to play safety, which he played some last season.

Such versatility is one of the reasons the Buckeyes coveted Wade when he was a 5-star prospect from Jacksonville, Florida, three years ago. His first season on campus was short-circuited by injury, but he progressed quickly last year.

The Buckeyes’ secondary as a whole struggled in 2018, though. That prompted new head coach Ryan Day to hire Hafley, with whom he’d worked on the San Francisco 49ers staff in 2016.

As Hafley has diversified the Buckeyes’ pass-defense scheme, he has also taught defensive backs nuances and tendencies from his NFL background. Wade has soaked it all in.

“We’ll be in a meeting,” Wade said, “and he’ll say, back in 2016 I got hurt on this play with this person and that person. You’re like, ‘How did you know all that?’ He knows so much football.”

Wade said Hafley has been particularly helpful in breaking down wide receivers’ route concepts so that he can anticipate simply by the offensive formation what a receiver is likely to do.

One challenge for offenses is that they won’t know exactly how Wade will be used. Asked again how reporters should define Wade’s position, Hafley joked that the mystery will serve Ohio State well.

“That's kind of cool you guys can't figure that out,” he said. “That means FAU (season-opening opponent Florida Atlantic) won't figure it out, either.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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