Spring Recap - Safeties

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Football
2013 Spring Recap - The Safeties
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There hasn't been a terrible amount written about the Ohio State safeties this spring because everybody returns and things have gone pretty much as planned.

Despite a lack of attention, this is still the last line of defense that we're talking about. There may not be any drama right now, but a missed tackle in September could bring back a flood of memories from 2011 and 2012.

Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett are entering their third year as starters, so much is being expected of them. They have combined for 46 career starts, and both have been named Second-Team All-Big Ten in their careers. However, because of a handful of broken plays, fans too often only remember the negative. Keep in mind that this is the second year together for the secondary coaches as well, so improvement should come from that alone.

Returning Starters: C.J. Barnett (rSr.), Christian Bryant (Sr.)

Christian Bryant
Photo by Jim Davidson
Christian Bryant

When safeties coach Everett Withers got his first look at Christian Bryant in 2012, he talked about his knack for being around the football. What they have worked on since Day One, is complementing that knack with the appropriate fundamentals, which would then cut down on a few missed tackles.

The work they put in last season turned Bryant into a second-team All-Big Ten performer. This spring, we didn't see Bryant as an out-of-control player at all. He showed very good coverage skills defending slot receivers like Jordan Hall, and he had very few drops.

According to Withers, however, Bryant is not yet a finished product.

"I think probably the biggest thing is just the basic techniques and fundamentals of tackling, and football positioning," he explained. "It's something that we've worked on every day with him since we've been here. He's gotten much better, but he still has a ways to go.

"Christian is one of those guys that is a natural football player, but he doesn't he have some natural position things, so he has to work on them. Really good football players work on their weaknesses, they don't just continue to work on strengths. So everyday we try to push that with him."

The conference coaches named C.J. Barnett to the second-team All-Big Ten Team in 2011 as a redshirt sophomore. Last season he had 19 fewer tackles in four fewer games, but he had the same number of interceptions and passes defended.

This spring he was again solid. He has been a leader for this team for nearly three years now, and is set for his best season ever.

"He's a very good leader, he's on our leadership group," Urban Meyer said. "He's a guy I'm counting on to have a tremendous year. He could be a tremendous leader and he did have a tremendous spring."

C. J. Barnett
Photo by Jim Davidson
C. J. Barnett

Like Bryant, Barnett still finds himself working on the basics.

"My fundamentals, and my football positioning," he answered, when asked what he planned to work on in the spring and offseason. "Coach Meyer said that I need to work on my explosiveness and acceleration. Just little things that I can work on to make me a better player."

Others Returning: Corey Brown (rSr.), Jamie Wood (rSr.), Ron Tanner (rSo.), Devan Bogard (So.), Russell Doup (rJr.), Kevin Niehoff (rFr.)

One of the by-products of having two very experienced starters is a bench that doesn't have much experience at all. Corey Brown has played the most, and it hasn't been all that much. He will be counted on this season as a backup safety, as well as in the dime, provided that he can hold on to the job.

"I think Pittsburgh has done a really good job of coming to work every day," Withers said. "We've put him in a lot of different positions. He's playing strong safety, he's playing nickel, he's playing dime, so he has a little more on his plate than some of the other guys, even Christian and C.J.

"I told him that you've got to play better. I told him that I recruited really well at this position. I'm really honest with him. I think he understands the urgency. I think he wants to be a valuable member of this football team, so if he just keeps going and works everyday, I think he'll be fine."

Jamie Wood has battled injuries for most of his career, and both he and Ron Tanner have mostly seen special teams duty to this point. Walk-ons Russell Doup and Kevin Niehoff were also special teamers previously, except they were kickers and punters.

Devan Bogard was making strides as a true freshman last year before tearing his ACL. He wasn't able to do much this spring, but is expected to be a contributor somewhere.

"Hopefully with C.J. and Christian being senior leaders, we can add more experience with that room with Pitt Brown," Withers said.

"Ron Tanner had a good spring. We’re going to have to count on some depth from some young guys coming in. The development of Devan Bogard coming off a knee injury last year will be critical this offseason. We need five to six safeties because those guys need to help on special teams."

Newcomers: Vonn Bell (Fr.), Jayme Thompson (Fr.), Darron Lee (Fr.), Christopher Worley (Fr.)

As you can see with the depth of the returning players, bringing in safeties was a very high priority for the 2013 recruiting class. With that need in mind, it would be difficult to find a better group of safeties in any recruiting class last year. Unfortunately for OSU, none of the players were early enrollees, so they'll still be dealing with a learning curve during summer camp.

There are spots available for the freshmen, both on defense and special teams this coming season. It will likely be first come, first serve when it comes to playing time. Those who make an impact quickly will get the first look. Fortunately for the coaches, they've got a lot of young and hungry players to evaluate.

Still, it won't be the newcomers that make or break the season. It will be the players already on hand that ultimately decide things.

"We’ve got a long way to go," Withers said after the spring.

"We have a lot of development that needs to happen in May, June and July. If you don’t continue to grow over the next three months, you almost kill your season. We have to move forward and grow."

Depth Chart
FREE SAFETY
Christian Bryant (5-10 192, Sr.)
Ron Tanner (6-0 200 rSo.)
Vonn Bell (6-1 190, Fr.)
Jayme Thompson (6-2 185, Fr.)

STRONG SAFETY
C.J. Barnett (6-1 203, rSr.)
Corey Brown (6-1 201, rSr.)
Darron Lee (6-2 205, Fr.)
Christopher Worley (6-3 195, Fr.)

Spring Links
Secondary Could Be Primary For Buckeyes in 2013

Meyer Identifies Top Spring Performers

Nickel and Dimed: OSU Defense Aiming to be More Versatile

Spring Thoughts on the Defense at the Midway Point

Spring Football Notebook: Hall Missing, Pitt Brown Leads Goal Line Stand

Spring Practice Insider: Defense Shows New Look

Ohio State Confirms DB Jamie Wood Attempting Comeback

Spring Forecast: Safety

Bell Joins Buckeyes, Meyer’s Quest to Unseat SEC

Meyer Rings Victory Bell for 5-Star Safety

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