The Big Board: DBs and Specialists

In the secondary, Ohio State will build around two returning starters, Nate Salley and Dustin Fox. In this edition of the Big Board, we examine OSU's personnel in the defensive backfield as well as at the kick specialist positions.

We are back with the fourth installment of The Big Board, my position-by-position look at the Ohio State football team.

We opened this five-part series Sunday with a look at the offensive backs and receivers. We continued Tuesday with the tight ends and linebackers.

Wednesday, we looked inside the huddle on the defensive line and at linebacker.

Today, we will examine the secondary and specialists.

Finally, in an upcoming segment, we will tie all of this data together.

Here is a position-by-position look at OSU's scholarship status and prospects in the defensive backfield and kick specialist positions with returning players listed by seniority. Walk-ons listed if on latest published roster (i.e. if you don't see a particular walk-on, he is not on the most recent roster update).

(All class designations are 2004 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)

Cornerback

* In The Fold (5): Dustin Fox* (Sr.), Harlen Jacobs (Sr.), E.J. Underwood (Jr.), Michael Roberts (Soph.), Ashton Youboty (Soph.).

* Walk-Ons (2): Steven Moore (Sr.), Antonio Smith (Soph.).

* New This Fall (3): Ted Ginn Jr., Shaun Lane, Brandon Underwood.

* Verbal For 2005 (1): Jamario O'Neal.

* Analysis: Obviously, losing Chris Gamble a year early to the NFL hurts a great deal. His departure means that, most likely, Fox (6-0, 190) will stay put at corner for a third season there as a starter. He tied with safety Nate Salley for third on the team in tackles with 77. He also made three interceptions and broke up nine passes. In a season where teams averaged 35 pass attempts per game against OSU, Fox hung tough and rarely surrendered the big play.

The race will be on this spring to identify Gamble's replacement. The leading candidates appear to be E.J. Underwood (6-1, 175) and Youboty (6-2, 187). Underwood only got to play in four games last season before injuring his hand in an off-the-field incident. He has some experience, having played extensively as a freshman. Youboty filled in this past year as the third corner and played in all 13 games. This should be quite a battle that could linger into the fall.

Jacobs (6-1, 197) has only seen limited action in his career, but remains a key special teams player (to wit his blocked punt for a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State). Roberts (5-11, 178) will get to show his stuff as well this spring.

Of course, many believe that Ginn (6-0, 177) may be the player of the future at this key position. He was, after all, the USA Today national defensive player of the year at Cleveland Glenville. He picked the Buckeyes over USC, Miami (Fla.), Michigan and Pittsburgh. He may not start from day one, but he could certainly come in and make a solid impact on OSU's bottom line in this calendar year. Plus, he could prove lethal in the return game as well.

Lane (5-10, 180) is the son of former Buckeye Garcia Lane. He was also a standout prep RB at Hubbard, Ohio. He could be a factor at this position in years to come.

Brandon Underwood (6-2, 170) is tabbed by many as a bigger version of his brother, E.J. Underwood. He could also get a look at early playing time when he arrives in the fall.

It is possible also that Tony Gonzalez and/or Dareus Hiley, who I listed as wide receivers earlier this week, could also get a look at corner this spring.

* Still Looking?: Opinions differ on whether O'Neal (6-1, 180) will be a corner or a safety at the college level. He verbaled to OSU on Feb. 23, 2003, becoming perhaps the earliest verbal to OSU ever. He transferred from Mansfield Senior to Glenville just before the season but, because of suspensions and OHSAA transfer hold-ups, only played a few games for the Tarblooders. Still, he is regarded as one of the nation's very best seniors-to-be and clearly as Ohio's top prospect in that class.

If O'Neal is indeed a corner, OSU's needs at this position may not be as pressing. Of course, you always take a great player who can cover and run. Possibilities here could include Brandon Harrison (5-10, 200) of Dayton Chaminade-Julienne and Canton McKinley's Brad Jones (6-2, 190) as well as Florida's Chris Chancellor and Pennsylvania's Justin King (6-0 ½, 180). Like O‘Neal, King is being touted as one of the nation‘s top prospects. He is also a strong RB prospect as well.

Safety

* In The Fold (4): Tyler Everett (Jr.), Nate Salley* (Jr.), Brandon Mitchell (Soph.), Donte Whitner (Soph.).

* New This Fall (2): Nick Patterson, Sirjo Welch.

* Analysis: Will Allen stepped into the strong safety role as a senior and earned All-American honors, just as Mike Doss had the three years before. With his departure, OSU will be looking for a complement to Salley (6-3, 205), who started the last 11 games and was rock solid. He ended up tied with Fox for third on the team in tackles. Salley joins linebacker A.J. Hawk and Fox as potential leaders for the defense in 2004.

There are no shortage of candidates to fill the vacant safety position. Whitner (5-11, 185) may get the first call. He was limited early in the season due to an injury, but emerged as OSU's nickel back late in the year. He had a career-high five tackles and two pass breakups in the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State to finish the year with 22 tackles.

At the same time, Everett (6-1, 185) and Mitchell (6-3, 190) will be anxious to show what they can do this spring as well. Everett also did a fine job as a reserve DB and finished the year with 18 stops. Mitchell started the first two games before being replaced by Salley. This hard hitter ended up with 19 tackles on the season.

Patterson (6-2, 210) is a versatile athlete from St. Louis' Hazelwood Central High School. He seems like a natural safety, but was also a fine wide receiver.

Welch (6-0, 185) is also a fine all-around athlete. He became known as one of the top play makers in the Columbus City League with 14 interceptions over the past two seasons.

* Still Looking: OSU has made an offer to Hamilton, Ohio, standout Adam Myers-White (6-3, 185). He is believed to be leaning to OSU over Michigan. Again, if OSU lands Myers-White, they may be pretty well set at safety in what will be a small recruiting class. Other possibilities include Dane Romero of West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West (OSU already has two players from there on the roster) and Jayson White of Erie (Pa.) McDowell (home of OL signee Kyle Mitchum).

Kickers/Punters

* In The Fold (2): Kicker Josh Huston (Sr.), kicker Mike Nugent* (Sr.).

* New This Spring (1): Punter A.J. Trapasso.

* Grayshirt for 2005 (1): Aaron Pettrey.

* Analysis: OSU loses Ray Guy Award-winning punter B.J. Sander. But the Buckeyes believe they have an answer in Trapasso, who has graduated early from nearby Pickerington Central and will enroll in time for spring football.

Trapasso (6-1, 215) averaged 41.4 yards per punt and earned All-Ohio honors as a senior. He was also a standout RB as well. He will likely go foot-to-foot with Huston (6-1, 195) for the punting job this spring.

Huston split the kicking job with Nugent in 2001, but hasn't had much of a role since that point.

Nugent returns as one of the nation's top kickers. He hit on 16 of 19 field goals as a junior with a long of 53 yards. That followed his All-American sophomore year, when he was 25 of 28 with a long of 51 yards.

It was unclear whether walk-on Brian Pierce from Lakewood St. Edward was in the fold. If still around, Pierce could figure as either the kicker or punter down the line.

The Buckeyes were also planning on grayshirting Pettrey (6-3, 185), a product of Raceland, Ky. The idea is by delaying his enrollment OSU can use that scholarship on another player this year and his "five-year clock" would not begin until January. At that point, Pettrey would be considered a prime candidate to step in for the departing Nugent in 2005 and possibly serve as the kicker for four seasons. As a prep senior, he hit on 8 of 13 field goals, including a state-record 58 yarder. He was also a fine prep QB as well.

* Not Looking: If Trapasso and Pettrey pan out -- and OSU will have a better idea on that after seeing Trapasso in spring ball and Pettrey in fall practice until school begins -- then OSU likely would not be in the market for another kick specialist in the small 2005 class.


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