Safeties, Withers Roll With The Punches

Everett Withers has a lot on his plate. In addition to his job as Ohio State's assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator, Withers also coaches the safeties. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the transition for the safeties and their new leader has been smooth.

Things have been – and will continue to be – different in 2012 for Ohio State's safeties.

The most important of those changes is the man leading them. Gone is Paul Haynes, who left the Buckeyes during the winter to become the new defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach at Arkansas. Now leading the unit is Everett Withers, who holds the titles of assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the safeties.

While Haynes was more of an in-your-face type of coach on the practice field, Withers approaches things differently.

"I'd say he's maybe not as intense on the field," junior C.J. Barnett said. "On the field Coach Haynes is always in your ear, yelling and stuff. That's the way he coaches. Coach Withers is intense, but he's a lot nicer with it."

Barnett said it was difficult to lose Haynes, who was at Ohio State for seven seasons before leaving in early December. Haynes was the co-defensive coordinator in 2011 in addition to his role as safeties coach. During his time at OSU, the Buckeyes posted a 66-11 record.

Withers joined Urban Meyer's staff a couple of weeks after Haynes' departure. He has quickly made a good impression.

"Very smart," Barnett said of Withers. "Having Coach Haynes, I thought he was the smartest coach I ever had, but then Coach Withers comes and he's just as smart. He knows a lot."

Barnett's fellow returning starter at safety, junior Christian Bryant, was already familiar with Withers. Withers had recruited Bryant for North Carolina when Bryant was a four-star prospect at Cleveland Glenville in the class of 2010. When it came time for Bryant to choose a college his finalists were Ohio State and North Carolina, and his opinion of Withers was one of the reasons why the Tar Heels made it that far in the battle for his services.

"(Withers) is very good and I like how he develops players," Bryant said in a article in 2010 about his interest in North Carolina. "I like how they let their backs make plays and they said they love how physical I am."

Fortunately for Bryant, Withers at Ohio State is the same as Withers at UNC.

"He came here just as I thought he was going to be – a nice, personable guy," Bryant said. "We all respect him as a coach."

Withers' laid-back attitude is also a benefit according to Bryant.

"He gets on us when he needs to, but he really just lets us play freely," Bryant said. "He just fixes our mistakes and makes sure we understand things as a whole."

While Withers' presumed starts at safety have good things to say about him, the OSU assistant had positives things to say about his new charges.

"C.J. is a very talented player," Withers said. "He was one of those guys in the offseason who was a leader. He was a consistent guy in the offseason, and that's what you look for. You look for a foundation. That's what you can tell out of C.J. He was a very consistent guy in how he works. He was one of those guys that was always in the office watching tape. You didn't have to prod him to be in there to watch cut-ups and that type of stuff.

"That's what you're looking for in good football players. Good football players do that. They work their craft. He's one of those guys who works his craft."

And Bryant?

"I think Christian is one of those guys that has an abundance of talent," Withers said. "You see guys like Christian a lot that have a lot of talent, and just putting the talent and the fundamentals and footwork and all that stuff together will help them become really good football players. If he'll do that, he'll have a chance to (be a really good football player)."

Withers, like the rest of Meyer's staff, is looking to have a set two-deep by the end of spring football. In early spring practices, Barnett and Bryant have been the No. 1 safeties, but there is a slight change from the 2011 season. Instead of having two safeties that were basically interchangeable, Ohio State will now feature a free and a strong safety. So far, Barnett has been the strong safety - a position that usually requires a heavy-hitting, run-stopping player. Bryant has been the free safety - a position on the weakside that often has more pass-coverage responsibility.

Withers said those assignments are subject to change - i.e. he could flip Barnett and Bryant. He is also looking to find other players who could emerge as a potential starter. The leading candidate there seems to be senior Orhian Johnson, a former starting safety who tied for the team lead last season with three interceptions.

"He's another one of those guys that's kind of pushed restart," Withers said. "He's had a very good first four days. He needs to continue to improve. Hopefully, if he can continue to gradually work through the spring, then he adds the potential of having three starters at safety if we can continue to work that way with those first three guys."

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