Ohio State football's Josh Proctor feeling more comfortable at free safety

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State safety Josh Proctor, here celebrating a tackle against Nebraska on Oct. 24, feels he is settling in at free safety this spring after playing different positions last year.

Josh Proctor has experience at multiple positions in Ohio State’s secondary.

Along with starting as the free safety late last season, he has also lined up as a slot cornerback, priding himself on versatility.

But in spring practice, Proctor has enjoyed an extended stay at one spot, settling in as the deep safety.

“I think it'll mean basically getting used to that one spot,” Proctor said, “and I can actually sit and learn what I need to learn. As far as moving around in other spots, I'm still the same person wherever you need me. I'll be there like it doesn't matter.”

The Buckeyes have used a single-high safety look as their base defense in two seasons under coach Ryan Day.  

Their results between the seasons varied, though.

After relying on All-Big Ten first-team standout Jordan Fuller in 2019, they turned to less experienced defensive backs Marcus Hooker and Proctor last fall.

The secondary, already coping with departures of corners Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah, saw a steep drop-off. Ohio State ranked 122nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision in pass defense during the pandemic-shortened season, a year after it was atop the nation in the same category.

Entering next season, Proctor’s development at free safety will be critical in leading to some improvement for the defense.

There are few other options on the roster this spring with as much experience as the senior. Hooker, who started at free safety for the first half of last season, remains suspended indefinitely by the team after he was cited for operating a vehicle while impaired last month, and no update has been given about a possible return.

Bryson Shaw, the next projected safety on the depth chart, has played only sparingly in two seasons with the Buckeyes, and Jantzen Dunn is one of 15 early-enrollee freshmen.

Josh Proctor celebrates an interception against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship on Dec. 19. “How I play, I get excited," he said.

Proctor feels he has settled in nicely at safety.

“I'd say I'm pretty comfortable,” he said. “I'm confident in what I do, and my abilities, and I know I work hard.”

He added that the game has slowed down for him. In past seasons, the hard-hitting safety was just eager to make a play, and it created a share of highlights.

But it also led him to feel overwhelmed at times and out of position.

“How I play, I get excited,” Proctor said. “Sometimes my eyes get going everywhere, and I think about it a lot. I think I've slowed down.”

While splitting playing time with Hooker in 2020, he thought they struggled with their chemistry and communication.

It inhibited them as they sought to replace the experience offered by Fuller.

“I feel like communication goes a big way,” Proctor said. “Sometimes you know your job, but if you don't know what the other person is supposed to be doing, or you don't know what the whole point of the defense may be, breaking those things down and actually learning those things has kind of helped us improve this year.

“It was our biggest difference from last year. Last year just kind of seemed like everything was so fast.”

Proctor felt as if the disruptiveness of the coronavirus pandemic posed a challenge for them, creating a dizzying feeling.

The start of the season was postponed almost two months. Practices were altered. Three regular-season games were canceled only a few days ahead of their scheduled kickoffs.

The tenuous nature of each game affected their preparation.

“Not knowing who you're going to have the next week or the next day, everything just felt weird,” Proctor said.

With a more familiar routine and an uninterpreted offseason, Proctor hopes he will find his stride and consistency at his position in the secondary.

Freshman progress

Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and defensive end Jack Sawyer lost their black stripes, the Buckeyes announced Tuesday.

They are the first of the 15 early enrollees to shed the stripe on their helmet, a tradition that began when Urban Meyer took over the program in 2012 and serves as a sort of rite of passage for incoming freshmen or transfers.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman