Fall camp gets underway for the Buckeyes on Friday and every single Ohio State position coach will have a mental list of things that they need to get done.
In fact, they may actually have a physical list as well.
Speculating as to what might be on each assistant coach’s list is always a fun exercise, and there are no shortages of items that will need to be addressed.
Up today is secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who is in his first year at both jobs, but only loses one starter from last season.
It was an up-and-down season for the Ohio State secondary last year, and the downs probably outweighed the ups.
There is a scheme change coming and the Buckeyes are going to mix up their coverages this season. New techniques are being taught and plenty of good happened in the spring.
Spring camp was just the start. Over the next month, things will be fine-tuned and game plans will go into effect. It’s going to be a busy month with a lot to get done.
With so much to do between now and Florida Atlantic, you know there’s a to-do list somewhere. It may look something like this one.
1. Get Jordan Fuller up to speed.
Jordan Fuller missed the spring with an undisclosed injury, but is now full go. He’s a smart guy, so he’ll pick things up quickly, but he still has to get out there on the field and get it done. When he talked at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, he said he wasn’t sure which safety spot he would even be lining up at, but expected to be at free (deep) safety. As a one-high safety on early downs and a split look on passing downs, there’s a lot of ground to cover both figuratively and literally. This is a brand new defense for Fuller, and while he has done the mental reps, he still needs to get the physical reps in.
2. Find Shaun Wade’s home.
In the spring, Shaun Wade was at strong safety, usually manned up on early downs against a tight end or a slot receiver close to the line of scrimmage. On passing downs, he would stay pretty much where he was, but would become the nickel corner as the Bullet would then move back to be one of two deep safeties. The process worked well, and we saw last year that Wade can be an effective defender in the slot. With how much cross-training he does at corner and nickel and safety, however, there are still other potential homes for him. Ultimately, it would be a bit of a surprise at this point if he isn’t the strong safety after being there in the spring and doing very well.
3. Prepare the young corners to help out.
If Shaun Wade is going to be at safety and nickel, Jeff Hafley will need to get his second-year cornerbacks ready. And if junior Marcus Williamson is healthy, that would be great as well. Why is it important for Cameron Brown or Sevyn Banks or Tyreke Johnson to step up during camp? Imagine if one of Jeff Okudah or Damon Arnette goes down and Hafley can’t turn to one of the current corners. His best course of action would be to bring Shaun Wade over to corner. Now you have to hope Amir Riep — or whoever the No. 2 strong safety ends up being — is ready to handle such a heavy load. Riep played well in the spring, so it may come down to a situation where the staff likes him on the field more than they’d like one of the young corners, so in the event of a catastrophe, they would be more willing to put Wade at cornerback.
4. Put the finishing touches on Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah.
In the spring, Jeff Hafley said Jeff Okudah needed to get better with his hands early on in the route. They improved on that throughout the spring and into the offseason. Damon Arnette had things he focused on as well. Hafley is very happy with his two veteran cornerbacks, but he also knows they can still get better. Part of his job during this camp is figuring out where those areas of weakness are and turning them into areas of strength. They have already progressed in the art of looking back for the football, which Hafley hammered into them in the spring. Now it’s onto the little things that make the biggest differences.
5. Build the depth.
Along with the need for more corners, there is also a need to have more than just two safeties that Hafley and assistant defensive backs coach Matt Barnes can turn to. The good news is that every safety from last year’s team returns, and each of them wants to get the bad taste of last season out of their respective mouths. Junior Isaiah Pryor started half the season last year as OSU’s deep safety, so he may be an ideal and experienced backup for Fuller. Junior Amir Riep showed what he can do in the spring game with an interception on a tough route. Sophomore Josh Proctor has been talked about since before he arrived. His name gets heard often over the public address during practice, but he has been relegated to special teams so far. Redshirt freshman Marcus Hooker missed last season with an arm injury, but he’s got great bloodlines. There are a number of options, but it will be up to Hafley and Barnes to make them viable.