Football

Ranking Ohio State’s Top 10 Playmakers on Defense: No. 9

Damon Webb Ohio State Football

The No. 9 player on this list had some rough moments to start the 2016 season, but he got better and better as the year went on. Now a senior, he is expected to be a vocal leader in the back end of a defense that is looking for two or three new starters.

No. 9 — Damon Webb, Sr Safety

A year ago at this time, Damon Webb was Ohio State’s starting free safety without ever having played a game at safety before. He began spring camp of 2016 as a cornerback, but after about three practices they moved him to free safety. He quickly took over the No. 1 spot and never looked back.

That doesn’t mean last season went perfectly. He did start all 13 games, finishing fifth on the team with 57 tackles, but he had some coverage issues early in the season. There were a few times when opponents found an opening down the seam against Webb in coverage. It probably wouldn’t have even been noticeable had the other three (four) starters in the secondary not been so difficult to complete a pass against.

Think about it as an old, drafty house. You don’t notice one window letting in a little bit of cold air until you replace every other window. That’s when you see the difference. Webb eventually sealed his position up pretty tightly. He earned Honorable Mention All-B1G recognition, which is also where fellow Buckeyes Jerome Baker, Sam Hubbard, Michael Hill, Chris Worley, and Denzel Ward found themselves. Heck, Ward didn’t even make Honorable Mention on the coaches’ team.

Statistical History

YEARG-GSUAATOTINTYDSPBUFR
20148-03030010
20157-037100000
201613-1332255713630
Tot.28-1338327013640

What He Does Well

In Ohio State’s defense, you don’t play free safety if you can’t cover slot receivers. While in many defenses the free safety is more of a centerfielder, in OSU’s defense the opposite is basically true. Also called the “Falcon” position, Webb’s role as a free safety is to basically be a slot cornerback in a base defense. His responsibilities change depending on who is lining up across from him.

While he only had one interception last season, he did exactly what he was supposed to do with it.

Webb was an Army All-American in high school and rated as the No. 5 cornerback prospect in the 2014 class. He is an aggressive man-to-man defender who played press coverage for his first two years as a Buckeye. It prepared him well for life as a free safety. In fact, his transition from corner to falcon is a common one. During recruitment, OSU’s coaches are already projecting some cornerbacks’ future safety possibilities.

Webb finished with 42 tackles in Big Ten play last year, which is the same number as Chris Worley, and just nine fewer than All-American Malik Hooker. Webb is an active defender with a number of responsibilities. He got better at handling those responsibilities the more he played the position.

Damon Webb in 2017

In talking with the coaches and players, there has not been a single word of doubt spoken about Damon Webb. In the spring there was even talk about rotating three safeties, which would allow them to play Webb both at free safety and strong safety. That may not materialize, however, as Greg Schiano is still trying to find one guy who can play strong safety, let alone two.

Webb has emerged as a leader of this defense, which is exactly what he needed to do. While he may not get to track balls like a center fielder this year, he will be a busy man covering receivers and tight ends who come into his defensive purview. He will also be tasked with defending screen passes to the field, which will require him to beat a block and then tackle a receiver in space. Expect a few more blitzes as well. It’s a lot to ask of Webb, but there is abundant confidence here that he will get it done.

It would be acceptable to expect an All-Big Ten season for Webb. Vonn Bell was a First-Team selection in 2015 according to the media, but was a second teamer by the coaches. Could Webb made both teams this year? It’s his final go-round, so you should expect his very best season as a Buckeye. Especially when you consider what his coaches are saying about him.

What They Are Saying

“Damon Webb went from a decent player to a very good player this spring. He’s one of the most improved players on our team.” — Urban Meyer

“Right now, the guy who performed like a starter is Damon Webb. He had his best stretch of football that I’ve ever seen in him, and I haven’t seen that much, but from what I’ve seen, it was his best stretch of football. He performed like a legitimate big time safety in the spring. He has a look about him, a focus that I think this is going to be a huge summer for him. He’s going to come back and have a great senior year.” — Greg Schiano

“Well I think he has a lot of experience now under his belt. So I think when you go through that first year with really playing the position, every snap, you have all that tape to go back and learn from. You have the good experiences to expand upon and then you have the bad ones that you say, ‘I’ve got to get that fixed, that hurt me.’ He did an incredible job of studying himself and then he tried to take those things and implement them this spring and really worked hard. He’s also got that, this is it. He’s got that one year left before he’s done with his college career. You can see an increased urgency in everything he’s doing. And you know we just had our exit meetings with our players this week, and it was an interesting one with Damon. I think he’s an incredibly focused guy right now.” — Greg Schiano from the spring on what has clicked with Damon Webb.

Defensive Playmakers

Nos. 20-11

No. 10