The Buckeyes return all five safeties who started at least one game last season, though Jordan Fuller was held out this spring with a “lower extremity injury.”
Isaiah Pryor started seven games last season, Jahsen Wint started once, Shaun Wade started twice, and Brendon White started the final five games, earning the Rose Bowl Defensive MVP trophy along the way.
Josh Proctor and Amir Riep also return, and both had positive performances this spring.
Jordan Fuller, Sr OR
Isaiah Pryor, Jr OR
Josh Proctor, Soph
Ronnie Hickman, Fr
Jordan Fuller, Sr OR
Shaun Wade, rSoph
Amir Riep, Jr
Marcus Hooker, rFr
Brendon White, Jr
Jahsen Wint, rJr
Because Jordan Fuller wasn’t able to practice this spring, we don’t really know which of the two safety positions he will play. A case can be made for either, as he has started at both the deep safety and box safety during his career. Whichever spot they put him at, you should consider him the starter. That spot may already be known, or may not be figured out until the second half of fall camp. It may also depend on who the second-best safety is. For instance, if Shaun Wade is the best strong safety and Isaiah Pryor is the best free safety, it may come down to who is playing the best between the two of them. Fuller would then play the position of the guy who was deemed second-best.
“It’s pretty multiple. Free safety, strong safety, Bullet, we’re kind of rotating all of the guys through those spots right now. Sometimes you’ll see them in the middle of the field, sometimes you’ll see them in the half, sometimes you’ll see them down in the box, sometimes you’ll see them lined up over the slot, so really all three of those guys are pretty versatile. You can take any safety in our room right now and we’re trying to make it so we can plug and play them at all of those positions so that we just say, ‘You’re this.’ The more multiple we can be, the more we can do on defense.” — Co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley explaining what to expect from the OSU safeties in this scheme.
There are options galore at safety for the Buckeyes. Josh Proctor came to Ohio State with high expectations as one of the top safety recruits in the 2018 class. He and Isaiah Pryor have battled at free safety this spring, but it was Pryor with the first-team defense in the spring game. Proctor may have more potential than any other safety on campus, but he also has plenty of competition on his hands. Pryor had a difficult first half to the 2018 season, but he is playing in a new defense now and by all accounts had a very good spring. Amir Riep was outstanding in the spring game, showcasing the cornerback cover skills that brought him to Ohio State. Redshirt freshman Marcus Hooker and true freshman Ronnie Hickman both missed spring ball with injuries. When healthy, they’ll give the Buckeyes eight talented safeties, and that’s not including Brendon White and Jahsen Wint, or incoming freshman Bryson Shaw.
The Bullets have been talked about as the quasi third linebacker in this defense, but for our purposes they are listed as safeties. The reason for that is because on passing downs they will often move back to safety. When the Bullet is on the field in a base defense at “linebacker,” we have seen OSU mostly in a one-high look where the free safety is the only deep safety. The strong safety is then covering the tight end or the slot receiver near the line of scrimmage. On passing downs, however, the Bullet has dropped back, giving the defense two deep safeties, each playing a half of the field. In the spring game, the Bullets were at safety, and that probably won’t be a rare sight.
Anybody who ends up winning a safety spot should be worthy of some postseason accolades. Jordan Fuller will be a three-year starter this season and one of the leaders of this defense. Brendon White will be playing the same position that earned Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award back in 2016. At strong safety, Shaun Wade was tasked with defending tight ends and slot receivers this spring, and he was very, very good at it. If he doesn’t end up starting this season, he will still have an impact as the team’s nickel back.
Shaun Wade got his feet wet last season as a redshirt freshman, but he looked completely comfortable this spring swimming in the deep end. Wade played a lot last year as the team’s top nickel, and also saw time at field safety and cornerback. He led the team with three interceptions. According to cornerback Jeff Okudah, the coaches said that Wade could end up with 15 interceptions in this defense. While I think that’s probably overshooting it, it might not be a wise thing to put a limit on what Wade could do this season as a full-time starter near the football.