The Big Board: Defensive Backs, Specialists

Here is part four of our position-by-position analysis of Ohio State's personnel and recruiting possibilities. Today, we look at the defensive backs and kick specialists. Donte Whitner (pictured) has become a regular at strong safety.

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 Wednesday with a look at the offensive backs and receivers. We continued Thursday with the tight ends and linebackers.

Friday, 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 (7): Dustin Fox* (Sr.), Harlen Jacobs (Sr.), E.J. Underwood* (Jr.), Michael Roberts (Soph.), Ashton Youboty (Soph.), Shaun Lane (Fr.), Brandon Underwood (Fr.).

* Walk-On (1): DeAngelo Haslem (R-Fr.).

* Verbals For 2005 (2): Malcolm Jenkins, Jamario O'Neal.

* Analysis: Fox (6-0, 190) returned for his third year as the starter at the boundary corner. But he suffered a broken arm in the Week 2 win over Marshall. He is expected to be out until mid-October. Last year, Fox 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.

E.J. Underwood (6-1, 175) outpointed Youboty (6-1, 188) prior to the season to win the vacant field corner position vacated by Chris Gamble's early departure to the NFL. In three starts, he has 13 tackles and is entrenched in the lineup.

With Fox out, Youboty has stepped into the opening at the boundary corner. He has 12 tackles, an interception and two passes deflected. He is a sticky cover corner who is primed to follow Fox at that position at season's end.

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, 185) seemed to be gaining some confidence and momentum in the spring. Haslam (5-9, 170) has moved into the two-deep with Fox's injury.

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.

Ted Ginn Jr., listed at wide receiver in this analysis, could also factor at cornerback down the line.

Jenkins (6-0, 185) projects as a corner. He is a fine two-way player at Piscataway (N.J.) Township. He picked OSU over Rutgers and Virginia Tech.

O'Neal (6-1, 190) is ranked as the nation's No. 1 corner by TheInsidersRecruiting.com and as the state's top overall prospect. There is conjecture that he may be a safety at the college level. This Cleveland Glenville product committed to Ohio State more than a year ago (Feb. 23, 2003).

* Still Looking?: There seems to be no urgency here. OSU has offered Pennsylvania's Justin King (6-0 ½, 180). Like O‘Neal, King is being touted as one of the nation‘s top prospects (No. 2 corner). He is also a strong RB prospect as well. Michigan and Penn State may have a slight edge on OSU.

Safety

* In The Fold (6): Tyler Everett (Jr.), Nate Salley* (Jr.), Brandon Mitchell (Soph.), Donte Whitner* (Soph.), Nick Patterson (Fr.), Sirjo Welch (Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (2): Rob Harley (Sr.), Antonio Smith (Soph.).

* Verbals For 2005 (0): None.

* Analysis: Salley (6-3, 215) started the last 11 games in 2003 and was rock solid. He ended up tied with Fox for third on the team in tackles. Through three games, he is third on the team in tackles with 15.

Whitner (5-11, 200) seemed to rise above the rest of the competition this spring to fill the spot vacated by Will Allen. But Everett (5-11, 196) moved by him in preseason camp to become the starter. However, upon Fox's injury, Everett moved to the nickel back spot and Whitner has moved into the starting lineup. Whitner is fourth on the team in tackles with 14 (two for losses) and had an interception against N.C. State. Everett has six tackles and two pass breakups.

Mitchell (6-3, 205) enjoyed a big spring as well. He may be one of the biggest hitters and best tacklers -- along with Whitner -- on the team. He is listed behind Salley now.

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. He has already made a mark on special teams, forcing a fumble on an N.C. State punt return.

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. He seems like a redshirt candidate.

* Still Looking: OSU has made an offer to Hamilton, Ohio, standout Adam Myers-White (6-3, 185), ranked as the nation's No. 7 safety prospect. He is believed to be leaning to OSU over Purdue, Florida, USC and Tennessee.

California's Shawn Oatis (5-11, 203) is due to make an official visit to OSU Oct. 23 for the Indiana game. Oatis, ranked ninth nationally at safety, is also looking at Arizona, Notre Dame, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, and Arizona State.

Virginia's Sean Smalls (6-1, 180) also has an offer from OSU, reportedly.

Kickers/Punters

* In The Fold (5): Kicker/punter Josh Huston (Sr.), kicker Mike Nugent* (Sr.), punter Kyle Turano* (Sr.), punter A.J. Trapasso (Fr.), kicker Jonathan Skeete (Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (2): Punter Tyson Gentry (Fr.), kicker Ryan Pretorius (Fr.).

* Grayshirt for 2005 (1): Aaron Pettrey.

* Analysis: Nugent returns as one of the nation's top kickers. He may be the team MVP through three games, hitting 8 of 9 field goals including a final-play 55-yarder to end the Marshall game. 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.

Turano, a Bowling Green transfer, outdueled Huston to win the punting job. Through three games, Turano is averaging 41.6 yards per punt. Huston could apply for a sixth year of eligibility and battle for both the kicker and punter jobs next year.

Trapasso (6-1, 215) averaged 41.4 yards per punt and earned All-Ohio honors as a senior at Pickerington Central. He was also a standout RB as well. After a pair of underage drinking arrests this spring, Trapasso was not invited to preseason camp. He is back with the team now, however.

Skeete was a late addition to the 2004 class, signing with the Buckeyes over an academic scholarship to Northwestern. He projects as a kicker and will compete for that job next year.

Pettrey (6-3, 185), a product of Raceland, Ky., still seems intent on enrolling in the winter. The idea is by delaying his enrollment his "five-year clock" would not begin until January. At that point, Pettrey would be considered a prime candidate to compete for the vacant kicking job. 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 Skeete, Trapasso and Pettrey pan out, then OSU likely would not be in the market for another kick specialist in the small 2005 class.

Here are the archives from the previous installments of the midseason edition of The Big Board:

Part 1: QBs, RBs and Receivers

Part 2: Tight Ends and Offensive Line

Part 3: D-Line and Linebackers


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