The Ohio State football team must replace two departed safeties from last season in starter Damon Webb and reserve Erick Smith. One starter does return in the form of junior Jordan Fuller, but he has moved over to Webb’s vacated field safety spot. The spring was spent trying to find a replacement for Fuller at boundary safety. Sophomore Isaiah Pryor is the clubhouse favorite, but the back nine of fall camp will ultimately decide who wins the job.
Jordan Fuller, Jr
Amir Riep, So OR
Wayne Davis, rSo
Isaiah Pryor, So OR
Jahsen Wint, rSo OR
Brendon White, So
Even though the Buckeyes have only lost one starter at safety, they’ll have two safeties starting at new positions this season. Last year’s boundary safety — Jordan Fuller — moves to the field safety spot, which will put him closer to the line of scrimmage and see him matching up frequently with slot receivers. It’s the same spot he played as a true freshman in 2016, but this is still going to be a new experience after getting so many snaps at boundary safety last season. Sophomore Isaiah Pryor was Damon Webb’s backup last season, but now Pryor moves to the boundary in an attempt to solidify a position that has been played well by the likes of Tyvis Powell, Malik Hookier, and Fuller most recently.
“I think he’s a worker. I talked about big speed, he’s long, he can run, he certainly has a good knowledge base of the defense. That’s noticeable. Like a lot of the young guys, I think the next step for him is to kinda cut it loose and to have the confidence that he knows it. Sometimes with young guys, they maybe know it better than they think they do. They’re so used to being a step behind mentally that it affects them physically and one of the transitions they have to make is not to just know. Know it in the media room, but have confidence that you know it when the pads come on and things are happening fast. Believe me, there’s a lot of stuff going on from both a receiver standpoint and prior to that from a call standpoint. But no, I feel very confident in his ability to match with the defense mentally. We’ve gotta see him cut it loose physically.” — Safeties coach Alex Grinch on sophomore Isaiah Pryor
Sophomore Isaiah Pryor spent his true freshman season as Damon Webb’s backup at field safety. Speaking to him after the Cotton Bowl win this winter, I asked him if he would be moving to boundary safety and pair with Fuller in the slot. He told me that he was shooting for the field safety spot and wanted to take over for Damon Webb. It struck me as a tough ask back then. The move to boundary just makes more sense considering his length and overall athleticism. He did not win the job this spring, but he didn’t lose it either. This was his first extensive action as the boundary safety. He will continue to improve. And even if he hasn’t won the job outright in the fall, just remember that neither did Jordan Fuller a year ago.
Jordan Fuller had a fantastic spring, in what could very well be his last as a Buckeye. As a first-year starter in 2016, he replaced Malik Hooker in a way that almost made the defense not miss Hooker, which would have seemed like an impossible task a year ago. Fuller was arguably the Buckeyes’ best tackler a year ago, and now he is being put closer to the action. He came to Ohio State as a cornerback and he flashed those same skills this spring against slot receivers like Parris Campbell and Demario McCall. As a third-team All-Big Ten selection a year ago, Fuller is primed to earn even more stately accolades this time around.
Josh Proctor is not yet on campus, but when the true freshman arrives this summer, he could get himself involved in the boundary safety situation. Don’t expect him to win the job, but he will certainly compete with the non-starters to back up the eventual starter. The Buckeyes have had a true freshman safety in the two-deep in each of the last two seasons with Fuller and Pryor. Jahsen Wint and Brendon White will be trying to keep that from happening for a third year in a row.
I don’t know how much Amir Riep is going to play this season. As a sophomore who moved from cornerback this spring, he is still learning the position. The field safety position is essentially a slot corner, so this won’t be entirely foreign to him. In fact, all three field safeties on the depth chart used to be cornerbacks. It’s just a natural progression. Speaking of progression, I see Riep as being a slightly bigger, slightly faster Damon Webb. He will be a standout on special teams this season and will make some plays when given the opportunity on defense. Next year, however, could really be his year.