There is no lack of experience at safety for Ohio State this season.
Good experience is a little harder to find, though.
Combining players who have gone through some growing pains and a new coaching staff and the final product could look a lot different than it did a year ago when the Buckeyes allowed the second-most passing yards (3,433) in school history for a season.
Here is a preview of the last line of a defense and a new position being added to the defense this year:
Returning starters: Jordan Fuller, Brendon White
Others to know: Marcus Hooker, Josh Proctor, Isaiah Pryor, Amir Riep, Jahsen Wint, Ryan Batsch, Kevin Dever, Luke Donovan, Owen Fankhauser
Newcomers: Ronnie Hickman, Bryson Shaw
Big things were expected of Fuller last season as a junior, but the team captain missed the opener with an injury and struggled to reach his excellent 2017 form on a regular basis. Still the New Jersey native tied for the team lead in tackles with 81 and was credited with four pass breakups. He was also named a first-team Academic All-American and could be in line for a super senior season in a new scheme.
White started the last five games of the season and helped stabilize the defense to a certain degree. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Powell (Ohio) Olentangy Liberty product finished with 46 tackles, an interception and two passes defended.
Now the defensive MVP of Ohio State’s Rose Bowl win is in line to be a starting safety in some defensive looks while playing a new position called the Bullet in other packages. That is a combination of a linebacker and defensive back that also includes Wint.
Wint started the opener but was involved in multiple big plays and wasn’t as involved the rest of the way last year as a redshirt freshman. He ended up with 26 tackles but was among the standouts in the spring game in April.
Pryor started the first seven games at safety but had a hard time helping contain big plays in his first significant action. A late-season injury helped open the door for White, and Pryor was still working his way back to full health in the spring. Still only a junior, he is among several players with impressive recruiting pedigrees and some experience who could benefit from a new coaching staff on defense.
Riep, a junior from Cincinnati Colerain, was also a standout in the spring game after excelling on special teams in his first two seasons in Columbus, so there is still some untapped potential there.
Proctor is another long, impressive athlete (6-2, 205) who hasn’t had much of a chance to show what he can do in the real games, but the sophomore from Oklahoma had some moments where he flashed during the spring.
Hickman is a four-star prospect from DePaul Catholic in New Jersey. He was the No. 115 player in the nation and the third-best in the Garden State according to 247Sports Composite rankings. He enrolled in classes in January and has been working out with the team while also working his way back from a high school knee injury.
Shaw is a three-star prospect from from The Bullis School in Potomac, Md. Aside from sharing an alma mater with former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, Shaw is an accomplished lacrosse player.
Quotable: Jeff Hafley, Co-Defensive Coordinator: “All those guys are in the mix. I mean that, it is not just like media talk. Look at the skill that we have there, go out and compete for all of those guys, go out there and play ball. Whoever has the best training camp… we as coaches have got to decide where to put them and get them on the field. I am going to be consistent with that and that is how I talk to the players and that is how I will be honest with you guys and then that is what we have to do, that is our jobs.
“If you look at a guy like Wint, not to say that he made the biggest improvement, because he did not even practice that much. He gets into the spring game and he starts making all those plays. That really excites you. But we did not get a whole body of work with him so I am really excited to see what he can do. Even a guy like Pryor, I did not see him do too much, and he showed up. Proctor, same type of deal. Proctor did not have much film at all that I got to see, (then) did some good stuff (in spring). You guys can see that I am excited talking about some of those guys. I am really excited to see what they can do during training camp, what can they do when things get hard, when they get tired, and things get going fast.