In his second season as a starter in 2017, free safety Damon Webb proved to be one of the Buckeyes’ most consistent defenders. He led a secondary that had to replace three starters, each of whom was a first-round NFL draft pick. Ohio State dropped from third in the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2016 to 13th in 2017. That’s much better than was expected, and Webb was one of the main reasons why the defense stepped up as well as it did.
Webb led the Buckeyes with five interceptions and finished third with 61 tackles last season. He was the vocal leader for a secondary that was in need of voices.
Webb began his Ohio State career as a corner, which is the case for most Buckeye free safeties under Urban Meyer. The position requires the ability to cover slot receivers in one-on-one situations, and to this point, Vonn Bell is the only starting free safety under Meyer to not be a former cornerback.
That could be about to change, however.
Rising sophomore Isaiah Pryor has already staked his claim to the job. He could become just the second non-former-cornerback to win the job, which would say a lot for his coverage abilities as a 6-foot-2, 200-odd pound defender. Pryor was Webb’s backup in 2017 as a true freshman and is in the middle of his second year of winter workouts. Pryor came to Ohio State as the No. 3 safety in the 2017 recruiting class per ESPN’s rankings. He played in 12 games last season and is an astute learner.
Wayne Davis played in two games last season as a redshirt freshman. He came to Ohio State as a cornerback, but was moved to safety when the Buckeyes signed (arguably) the greatest cornerback recruiting class in the history of collegiate football last year. Davis was listed behind Jordan Fuller on the depth chart from time to time last season at strong safety, but rarely saw action. He will need a big spring if he is going to win the job.
The Buckeyes will likely move a cornerback to safety this spring, and the two most likely candidates are rising sophomores Marcus Williamson and Amir Riep. Riep played in every game last season, mostly as a productive special teams contributor on kickoff returns. Williamson played in 10 games in a similar role. Both players received time on defense late in blowouts at cornerback, but either one could give a huge, talented lift to a position that requires quickness and toughness.
You could see Jahsen Wint here as well. Wint is headed into his third year at Ohio State. He played in nine games last season, mostly in special teams roles.
The Buckeyes are also adding two safeties in the 2018 class in Marcus Hooker and Josh Proctor. Hooker would be the more likely of the two to play free safety due to his cornerback skills in high school. Hooker is, of course, the brother of all-time Ohio State great Malik Hooker.
Isaiah Pryor should be getting the first look at Falcon (free safety) this spring, or at least that’s what he believes will be happening. Who knows what things will look like behind — or alongside — him. We don’t even know what the coaching staff will look like in the secondary, so there are a bunch of variables here. Is Greg Schiano even going to be here? If he is, is he still coaching the safeties? What is Alex Grinch doing? If he has the safeties, he will have a brand new set of eyeballs on how the players are performing.
There is only one fair bet here and that is Isaiah Pryor starting out with the ones in spring camp. With the sheer amount of unknowns with position changes — both players and coaches — it is anybody’s guess how things will end up. And keep in mind, Damon Webb was playing cornerback for the first few practices of spring ball in 2016 before he moved to safety and eventually won the starting job next to Malik Hooker.
I know I’m going to die on this hill, but I think Marcus Williamson and Amir Riep could be perfectly suited for this role. They aren’t the 6-foot-1 cornerbacks that Ohio State likes (though neither was Denzel Ward). The reason Ohio State signs so many corners is because they know some of them will move to free safety, which is essentially just a nickel corner anyway. Somebody has to move here, so I’m going with one of the two youngsters who got some time last year.
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