2014 Spring Positional Recap: Safety

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Football
2014 Spring Positional Recap: Safety
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes went through the spring without as much depth at safety as they would have liked. That depth wasn't helped much either when Vonn Bell went down with a knee injury early on.

In Bell's place stepped Cam Burrows to patrol the backfield alongside Tyvis Powell. They performed well enough to please the Buckeye coaches, but there are still some concerns and unresolved issues here.

For one, that already thin depth took another hit with the transfer of redshirt freshman Jayme Thompson after the spring. Urban Meyer said on more than one occasion during the spring that he had confidence in three safeties: Powell, Bell and Burrows, but that they still needed more.

As it was, the injury to Bell scrapped their plan to play Burrows at nickel back, and instead they played cornerback Armani Reeves there. Will this continue during the season? That's an issue that will be addressed in the fall.

Returning Starters: None

Others Returning: Tyvis Powell (6-3 205, rSo.); Vonn Bell (5-11 200, So.); Cam Burrows (6-0 208, So.); Ron Tanner (6-0 205, rJr.)

Tyvis Powell can technically be called a returning starter, as he started six times a year ago. However, only one of those starts came at safety, and that was in the Orange Bowl. Still, he is now an experienced and respected member of the defense, and his size makes him a very intriguing prospect.

Tyvis Powell tackles Michigan's Dennis Norftleet.
Tyvis Powell

The miscommunications that had plagued the safeties and cornerbacks over the last three years weren't as much a part of the defense this spring. In fact, after the Spring Game, Powell said there was only one miscommunication in the secondary that day, and that was when Burrows missed a signal that Powell gave him.

Even though Powell only has one game at safety under his belt, he feels pretty good about the position move.

"The thing about the safety thing, it didn't really bother me because in high school, that's what I played," he said.

"So it's just basically coming back to playing what I was already playing. The Orange Bowl, I think I played decent for me to be playing safety for the first time. I had a lot of practices, but I don't think I did bad. Obviously I didn't do that bad because they've still got me there."

At the other safety spot, the spring was going to be our first real chance at seeing Vonn Bell at something other than gunner or nickel. An early knee injury derailed all of that, and with Cam Burrows's play this spring, the free safety job is now up for grabs again.

"From a physical standpoint, yeah, it's too bad that he's  not out there," safeties coach Chris Ash said of Bell this spring.

"But does it hurt us? No, it's next man in. Cam Burrows has stepped in and has taken advantage of the opportunity and done a great job. Vonn will be healthy soon and we're going to have a great competition for those safety positions."

The free safety position is very important in Ohio State's new defense as it will frequently be matching up against slot receivers in man coverage. The ability to cover quick receivers is why Ash doesn't mind converting cornerbacks if the opportunity arises.

Ron Tanner got a lot of good reps this spring with the second team, and he is going to be pushed quite a bit by the freshmen. The Buckeyes probably still won't be as deep as they'd like at safety, but if they can get something out of the freshmen, then they'll be feeling a lot better about the situation.

There is a lot to like about the future of the position, but there is only one career start at safety on this team. That is absolutely a concern.

Newcomers: Malik Hooker (6-2 190, Fr.); Erick Smith (6-1 195, Fr.)

The freshmen safeties are two very interesting athletes for the Buckeyes this year. Neither were in for the spring, but that hasn't stopped Urban Meyer from having immediate plans for at least one of them.

Erick Smith has Meyer understandably excited about his future, as he showed in the Army All-American Bowl that he can cover like a cornerback and bring the wood like a lumberjack. He stated months ago that Smith would be in the mix at nickel and dime, as well as special teams.

Hooker is relatively new to football, having only played it in high school for the last couple of years, but his athleticism has sped up his learning curve remarkably well.

Both he and Smith are already listed below in the depth chart, but they could each end up at either position.

"Erick Smith, he's a guy I'm really excited to get here," Meyer said on signing day.

"Played corner in the all star game but we plan on putting him at safety. And once again immediately in the depth. Malik Hooker is a guy who only played two years of football. I watched him play basketball and he certainly has the athleticism and size. It's just experience. So he might take a little bit longer, but that's an area obviously that we need to improve."

Depth Chart
Free Safety
Vonn Bell (5-11 200, So.) OR
Cam Burrows (6-0 208, So.)
Erick Smith (6-1 195, Fr.)

Strong Safety
Tyvis Powell (6-3 205)
Ron Tanner (6-0 205, rJr.)
Malik Hooker (6-2 190, Fr.)

Spring Links

Tyvis Powell Growing Into Role as Safety, Leader

Breaking Down Ohio State's Cover 4 Defense, Part 1

Buckeyes Looking for Safeties in Every Corner

Spring Practice Insider: Defense Keeping Things Aggressive

Vonn Bell Out for Spring with Knee Injury

Meyer Wants One Voice in the Secondary

Coaches Expecting Improvement, Competition in OSU Secondary

OSU Spring Forecast: Safety

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