OSU Spring Forecast: Safety
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Urban Meyer says the Ohio State secondary will be going through an overhaul in 2014, you only need to look at what the Buckeyes have going on at safety to see the truth in that statement.
A year ago the OSU defense had three senior safeties on the roster, and they each provided leadership in their own way. Christian Bryant was one of the absolute leaders on the team, and when he went down with an injury, every week was a struggle to keep Bryant's absence from killing the defense.
Once Bryant was gone, there were calls to see some changes at safety, but they didn't happen until the Orange Bowl. Now, with new safeties coach Chris Ash in charge, there may continue to be changes until he finds what he likes.
Who's Coming Back?
It's never a positive to lose three seniors at a single position as the Buckeyes do at safety, especially when two of three are three-year starters. The positive here, however, is that Ohio State has quite a bit of young, promising talent that is eager to finally be called upon.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The two youngsters at the top of the board are sophomores Vonn Bell (5-11 195) and Tyvis Powell (6-3 207). Powell started six games last season, with five coming at nickel back and the sixth coming at safety in the Orange Bowl.
Another sophomore, Cameron Burrows (6-0 205), has moved from cornerback to safety and he will be involved at the nickel as well, per cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. Redshirt junior Ron Tanner (6-0 200) is the elder statesman and he performed solidly when asked to do so in 2013.
There is also a pair of redshirt freshmen in Jayme Thompson (6-0 190) and Chris Worley (6-1 204). Thompson is returning from a broken ankle last year, and Worley could also find himself in the mix at nickel. Devan Bogard (6-0 198) could also be involved at nickel, though he was moved from safety to linebacker a year ago. He's returning from a second ACL tear, so he may not even be ready for spring football.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
The expectation for this spring is to see a bunch of new faces. The one face that is expected to be seen more than any other, however, is Vonn Bell. He showed a little bit of what he was capable of in the Orange Bowl, and he is expected to continue his playmaking ways this spring.
The other player who will likely be right next to Bell at the top of the depth chart is Tyvis Powell. Powell played in every single game last season, and has more experience than anybody else at the safety position. The only problem, however, is that he has only played one real game at safety.
The anticipated starting lineup at this point would be Bell and Powell at the safety spots and Cameron Burrows at nickel back. Chris Ash, however, might see this and laugh because he has yet to see anything from anybody that would convince him they are at the top of any depth chart.
Best Case Scenario
If Vonn Bell and the rest of the safeties take to Chris Ash's teaching and remain a communicative unit with the rest of the defense, then people everywhere should be thrilled with the potential of this group.
For the last three years there has been communication problems with the safeties and the corners, and now with Chris Ash being the main voice in the secondary, the hope is that this land of confusion will begin to resemble a very competent unit.
With so many unknowns at safety, if the Buckeyes come out of the spring knowing exactly who their three "starting" safeties are, then this will be a successful spring for Ohio State and the back end of the defense.
The absolute best case scenario would see Bell making plays all over the field, Tyvis Powell being around the ball consistently, and Cameron Burrows making plays against quicker slot guys, as well as getting involved in the offensive backfield.
One to Watch For
Even when Cameron Burrows committed to Ohio State, many saw him as an eventual safety. That eventuality is apparently now a reality, though in what capacity we do not yet know.
He seems like he could be an ideal nickel back because he covers like a corner, but hits like a safety. He should be able to handle the quick slot receivers, as well as defend the run given his size and aggression.
In limited snaps last year, Burrows was rarely out of position. If he can do that from the nickel this season, and get as involved as you would think he could be, then he might just be the perfect answer as OSU's fifth defensive back.
Trending Up or Down
It's difficult to imagine a position trending up following the loss of three seniors, but here we are. The Buckeyes have struggled at safety for a little while now, and at this point, a major change sounds like the best option.
Of course, it's a little easier to say the Buckeyes are trending up when there are players like Bell, Powell, Burrows and the rest hungry for their opportunities. There are also high expectations for Jayme Thompson and Chris Worley, so they should not be forgotten. This position will be much better in November than it is in September, but if all goes well, they'll be okay in April as well.
Even though there is so much of the safety position that is still unproven for the Buckeyes, that isn't stopping anybody from getting excited about the possibilities. Chris Ash is about to have more skill, talent and athleticism at his disposal than he has ever had before. He should be more than capable of doing something with all of those tools.
The safeties are going to be the last line of defense for Ohio State, and with the unproven nature of the linebackers in front of them, there will be even more pressure for this group to avoid mistakes. While they won't make every play, if they can simply avoid making the glaring mistakes, this should be a very promising group.
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