The Big Board: DBs, Kick Specialists

In the fourth installment of a five-part series, we examine Ohio State's personnel in the secondary and at the kick specialist positions. Safety Nate Salley will be back for his third year as a starter for the Buckeyes. Click here for more.

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 Monday 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 post signing day 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 from the Alamo Bowl roster.

(All class designations are 2005 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)

Cornerback

* In The Fold (4): Michael Roberts (Jr.), Ashton Youboty (Jr.), Shaun Lane (R-Fr.), Brandon Underwood (R-Fr.).

* In Limbo (1): E.J. Underwood (Sr.),

* Walk-On (1): DeAngelo Haslem (So.).

* New This Fall (2): Malcolm Jenkins, Jamario O'Neal.

* Analysis: OSU is looking for a replacement at the boundary corner for three-year starter Dustin Fox.

The good news is that Youboty (6-1, 188) returns at the field corner after enjoying a true breakout year in 2004. He started three games early in the year in place of the injured Fox, then supplanted Underwood in the lineup for the last six games. He ended the year with fifth on the team in tackles with 61 and had team highs in interceptions (four) and passes defensed (14). His picks came at key times in OSU's wins over N.C. State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan.

The bad news is that Underwood (6-1, 175) is currently suspended from team activities. OSU coach Jim Tressel would not elaborate other than to say Underwood has work to do to regain his spot on the team. Obviously, his status for spring ball – let alone the season – was up in the air.

Even worse, OSU has no other experienced corners to put out there. It is possible that wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. or one of the safeties – either Donte Whitner or Tyler Everett – would move over to corner and experiment here during spring ball. In fact, Ginn has talked quite a bit about relishing a role as a two-way player, a la Chris Gamble in 2002-03, in 2005.

Roberts (5-11, 185) could also get a look. He will be a fourth-year junior in 2005, although his playing time has been minimal to date.

Lane (5-10, 180) is the son of former Buckeye Garcia Lane. He was also a standout prep RB at Hubbard, Ohio, and was redshirted last year. 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. His arm was in a sling for the Alamo Bowl. It was unclear how much he might be able to do in spring ball.

Jenkins (6-1, 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. He helped lead his team to a championship.

O'Neal (6-1, 190) is ranked as the nation's No. 3 corner by Scout.com and as the state's top overall prospect. There is conjecture that he may be a safety at the college level. But with OSU in good shape at safety and in desperate need of impact players at corner, he will probably get his first look here. This Cleveland Glenville product committed to Ohio State nearly two years ago (Feb. 23, 2003).

* Definitely Looking: I don't want to plant ideas in anybody's head, but Youboty may not be long for this world with another year like his last one. Couple that with E.J. Underwood's departure (one way or another) at the end of 2005 and the Buckeyes will probably be after some more corners.

The Buckeyes have already offered O'Neal's Glenville teammate, junior Ray Small (6-0, 170). Other possibilities instate would be Trotwood-Madison's Jovani Chappel (5-9, 170) and Cincinnati Withrow's Robert L. Williams (5-11, 160).

Others that could be in the picture include Virginia's Greg Davis (6-1, 181), Pennsylvania's Darrin Walls (6-1, 180) and Virginia's Brandon Caleb (6-1, 192).

Safety

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

* Walk-Ons (3): Rob Harley (Sr.), Antonio Smith (Jr.), Michael Dougherty (R-Fr.).

* New This Fall (2): Anderson Russell, Donald Washington.

* Analysis: Salley (6-3, 215) returns for his third year as a starter at free safety in 2005. He is a veteran of 37 games with 20 starts. He missed time late in 2004 due to a shoulder injury. But he still finished sixth on the team in tackles with 55 and had two interceptions.

Whitner (5-11, 200) and Everett (5-11, 196) split time at strong safety last year, each starting six games. Whoever did not start would usually man the nickel back role. Whitner ended up tallying 69 tackles (fourth on the team) with four tackles-for-loss, one sack and one interception. As noted, one of these players could also see time at corner if needed in 2005.

Everett was eighth on the team in tackles with 39. He opened and closed the season as a starter and, as noted, will be somewhere in the secondary rotation once again in 2005.

Mitchell (6-3, 205) is one of the biggest hitters and best tacklers -- along with Whitner -- on the team. He is listed behind Salley at free safety. He also got some time as the nickel back and even logged a pair of late-season starts when both Salley and Whitner were on the shelf.

"A lot of guys stepped up," Salley said of OSU's depth at safety. "Everybody knows going into a game that anything can happen and you have to be ready. I think we were ready so when their time came everybody played to the best of their abilities."

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 his last two prep seasons. As a freshman, he made a mark as the sniper on the punt coverage team. He forced a key fumble in that role during the N.C. State win.

Patterson (6-2, 210) is a versatile athlete from St. Louis' Hazelwood Central High School. He has a bright future after redshirting in 2004.

Russell (6-0, 190) was perhaps more well known as a running back at Atlanta's powerful Marist High. With OSU set at safety and not so set at tailback, he could get his first look at running back.

Washington (6-1, 185) was a late but welcome addition to the 2004 class from Indianapolis Franklin Central. He was an outstanding two-way player there with 45 catches (10 TDs) and four interceptions as a senior.

* Still Looking?: The Buckeyes are in real good shape at safety. They have recruited extremely well at this position and seem to be set up through 2006 with Welch and Patterson waiting in the wings as well.

But the Buckeyes always seem to land a safety or two in every class (it appears to be the law). Some early candidates from Ohio would be Miamisburg's Cody Blevins (6-2, 197) and Toledo Rogers' Peris Edwards (6-1, 175).

Kickers/Punters

* In The Fold (3): Kicker/punter Josh Huston (Sr.), punter A.J. Trapasso (R-Fr.), kicker Jonathan Skeete (R-Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (4): Punter Tyson Gentry (R-Fr.), kicker Ryan Pretorius (R-Fr.), kicker Aaron Pettrey (Fr.), punter Jonathan Thoma (Fr.).

* Analysis: The kick specialist positions are in a state of flux. The Buckeyes know they must find a replacement for team MVP, All-American and Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Mike Nugent. And they figure they also need to find a new punter as it seemed unlikely that Kyle Turano, who started in 2004, would be granted a sixth year of eligibility.

It did seem likely, though, that Huston (6-1, 195) would be granted a sixth year of eligibility after dealing with injuries throughout his star-crossed OSU career. He has only appeared in one game in the last three years since splitting the kicking duties with Nugent (and going 3 of 10 on field goals) as a redshirt freshman in 2001.

Huston will have plenty of competition. Skeete (5-10, 195) was a late addition to the 2004 class. Pretorius (5-10, 190) has an interesting story as a 25-year-old walk-on from South Africa. Pettrey (6-3, 185) will join the fray as a walk-on in the fall. He was originally to enroll as a scholarship player this winter before OSU ran out of scholarships.

Trapasso (6-1, 215) averaged 41.4 yards per punt and earned All-Ohio honors as a senior at Pickerington Central in 2003. He was also a standout RB as well. After a pair of underage drinking arrests last spring, Trapasso was not invited to preseason camp. He is back with the team now and would be considered the favorite to win the punting job.

Little is known about Gentry (6-2, 165), a Sandusky (Ohio) Perkins product. Thoma, from Louisville (Ohio) St. Thomas Aquinas, averaged 48 yards per punt as a senior. He is hoping to steal the job and earn a scholarship when he arrives in the fall.

* Not Looking: If Skeete and Trapasso, in particular, pan out, then OSU likely would not be in the market for another kick specialist in the small 2006 class. The Buckeyes have already hedged their bets with Pettrey and Thoma, who would go on scholarship as well if they win jobs.

Here are the archives from the previous installments of the post signing day 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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