In a defense that was anything but consistent over the past three seasons, Buckeye safety Jordan Fuller was the most consistent defender Ohio State has had since he stepped into the starting lineup in 2017.
Fuller replaced Malik Hooker following one of the greatest individual seasons in OSU football history and did it without having people lament the loss of Hooker the entire way.
Fuller finished with 70 tackles as a sophomore starter in 2017, just two shy of the team lead and four shy of what Hooker produced the season before. As the last line of defense, Fuller did a solid job simply doing his job.
In 2018, he moved closer to the line of scrimmage and tied for the team lead with 81 tackles. His 61 solo tackles were the most for a Buckeye since linebacker Joshua Perry’s 73 in the national title season of 2014.
That 2018 Buckeye defense was not very good, however, and it was through no fault of Fuller, who was again a solid tackler and defender.
With Ryan Day installing a new defense in 2019, Fuller was again put deeper than the deepest. He was the sweeper. His job was to clean anything up that got to him and he did a very good job in limiting big plays from the opposition.
And now it’s somebody else’s turn.
Josh Proctor spent his first two seasons on campus as Fuller’s backup and now he is expected to take over.
Proctor was arguably the most productive member of the secondary during fall camp this past season, even earning comparisons to Malik Hooker.
Damon Arnette says sophomore free safety Josh Proctor reminds him of Malik Hooker. pic.twitter.com/SU06ubbuAd
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) August 21, 2019
But in replacing Jordan Fuller, Proctor will be doing more than simply replacing a free safety.
“He’s the quarterback of the defense,” Proctor said of Fuller. “He’s calling formations out. He knows what is coming to him, so he’s a pretty smart player.”
There are few better players to learn from than an Academic All-American who has 213 tackles over the previous three seasons. This past season was the first in this new defense and Fuller did what he could to get Proctor ready to take over for him in 2020.
“It’s a lot, but it’s fun,” Proctor said. “He breaks down everything for me and makes it a little easier, but we’ve got different playing styles.”
Based on his performances in practice, Proctor’s playing style should lead to more ball-hawking at deep safety next year. With the defensive system remaining the same, however, the Buckeyes are going to need the same kind of tackling they got from Fuller over these past three seasons.
That is a lot of pressure to put on one player, but Proctor would rather be dealing with replacing Fuller in a defense that he is familiar with, as opposed to one requiring that he learn an entirely new defense as well.
“Definitely, I mean, you never want to really just change the whole game plan every couple of years,” he said. “So it’s good to know that we don’t have to change anything next year.”
Ryan Day will be naming a new secondary coach in the near future to replace the departed Jeff Hafley, and that coach will continue to work with assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes. Together they will try to make this as seamless a change as possible.
The easier the transition, the less friction there is for everyone else on their path to playing time.
And for Proctor, he knows he still has plenty of room to grow, which is what he’ll be working on during the offseason.
“Just become more of a vocal leader,” he said. “And then learn the game as best as I can.”
As the prospective last line of defense for Ohio State in 2020, Proctor will need to begin realizing his full potential, while also staying under control well enough to keep everything in front of him.
Jordan Fuller excelled at being the Buckeyes’ security blanket. Now it’s Josh Proctor’s turn.
The good news for everyone involved is that he has spent the last two years learning from the best.
“I am ready. I feel like I am,” Proctor said. “I’ve followed in Jordan’s footsteps and I tried to learn what I can learn.”