Ohio State football spring position analysis: Defensive backs have room to improve

Bill Rabinowitz
Brendon White is now playing the safety/linebacker hybrid “Bullet” position. [Joshua A. Bickel]

Editor’s note: The Ohio State football team will conclude its spring practices at noon Saturday in the annual spring game in Ohio Stadium.

The spring game is a game in name only, of course. For the most part it is a modified scrimmage, the last of the Buckeyes’ 15 permissible practices in the spring.

But first-year OSU coach Ryan Day and his assistants will be looking to see how their new team responds in a competitive setting — albeit against teammates — and in front of a large crowd.

Ohio State drew more than 100,000 fans for a spring game a few years ago, and more than 80,000 last year despite stadium renovations. The capacity for this year’s game will be about 76,000.

With that backdrop, in the days leading up to the spring game, The Dispatch will assess where the Buckeyes stand at key positions.

Today: Defensive backs

Position coaches: Jeff Hafley (first season), Matt Barnes (first season).

Key loss: CB Kendall Sheffield (two interceptions, eight pass breakups).

Key returnees: S Jordan Fuller (81 tackles, one interception, four pass breakups), S Brendon White (46 tackles, 1 interception), CB Damon Arnette (40 tackles, 1 interception, six pass breakups), CB Jeffrey Okudah (34 tackles, eight pass breakups), CB/S Shaun Wade (31 tackles, three interceptions, seven pass breakups), S Isaiah Pryor (31 tackles, one interception, five pass breakups).

New to view: The most significant newcomers are the coaches. Hafley comes from the NFL with an excellent reputation. Barnes, hired away from Maryland, is considered an up-and-comer. They are incorporating zone coverage into the Buckeyes’ scheme, which has used press man-to-man coverage as its foundation the last several years. As for players, safety Josh Proctor saw some action last year and could be poised for a much bigger role this year. He’s one of the players who’ve emerged this spring and could force his way into the lineup.

Unit ranking (on a 1-to-5 basis, 5 being the best): 3. Last year’s performance was closer to a 2, but this unit has too much talent to be anything less than average. Fuller is the leader, and White, now playing the safety/linebacker hybrid “Bullet” position, gave the unit a jolt when he was inserted into the lineup last year. Arnette has had a good spring, and Okudah and Wade are former five-star prospects who are tapping into their potential.

Stat that worked: The Buckeyes ranked 15th nationally in third-down-conversion percentage, allowing opponents to convert only 32.7 percent of the time.

Stat that must change: Pick among many, but let’s go with having only nine interceptions among safeties and cornerbacks. The Buckeyes were in position for several more pickoffs – or at least breakups — but too often failed to finish plays. The addition of zone coverage should allow them to break on the ball and get more interceptions. This group is too talented not to be ball hawks.

Notable: Fuller won’t play in the spring game as he continues his recovery from what Ryan Day described as a “lower extremity” injury. CB Marcus Williamson also is out due to injury.


Series schedule

Monday: Offensive line

Tuesday: Defensive line

Wednesday: Linebackers, specialists

Thursday: Quarterbacks, receivers

Friday: Running backs, defensive backs

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