Preseason Big Board: DBs, Specialists

This is the fourth installment of the preseason edition of The Big Board. Today, we look at the secondary and specialist positions. We examine OSU's current personnel as well as the recruiting possibilities. Safety Nate Salley anchors the secondary at safety.

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

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

Then, 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 preseason 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 newest roster.

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

Cornerback

* In The Fold (8): Tyler Everett (Sr.), Michael Roberts (Jr.), Ashton Youboty* (Jr.), Sirjo Welch (So.), Shaun Lane (R-Fr.), Brandon Underwood (R-Fr.), Malcolm Jenkins (Fr.), Jamario O'Neal (Fr.).

* Gone (1): E.J. Underwood (Sr.),

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

* Verbal For 2006 (1): Kurt Coleman.

* 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 boundary corner position remained wide open heading into the preseason. Everett (5-11, 202) missed spring practice due to injury, but was penciled into that spot on the basis of his experience. Everett was eighth on the team in tackles with 39. He opened and closed the season as a starter, rotating between safety and the nickel back slot.

It is possible, as well, that sophomore wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. could come over to defense and play at least a few plays at corner this season. 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.

With Everett out, Welch (6-0, 185) and Lane (5-10, 180) got a ton of reps in the spring. Welch 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.

Lane 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. He had an interception in the spring game.

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.

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. He missed spring practice as he mended the injury, but should be full-go this fall.

Jenkins (6-1, 185) projects as a corner. He was 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) was 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 over two years ago (Feb. 23, 2003).

It is also possible that incoming freshman Andre Amos (6-1, 180), listed previously here with the receivers, could get his first look at corner. The Middletown, Ohio, product had two fine all-star game outings at corner.

The bad news is that E.J. Underwood failed to regain his eligibility and was headed to the junior college ranks to complete his final year of eligibility in hopes of landing a pro contract in 2006.

Coleman (5-11, 180) is ranked as the nation's seventh-best corner in the Class of 2006 by Scout.com. He is also a national top-100 player. As a junior, Coleman had 91 tackles and 10 interceptions at Clayton (Ohio) Northmont.

* Still Looking?: Coleman's verbal was a key part of OSU's recruiting strategy for 2006. They needed an impact corner and appeared to get one there.

Still, Youboty could be out after this year if he has another year like the last half of 2004. If he leaves, Buckeyes will probably be after some more corners.

The Buckeyes have already offered O'Neal's Glenville teammate, senior-to-be Ray Small (6-0, 170). Small, listed earlier with the receivers, could also project here. OSU may also target Glenville's Royce Adams (5-11, 175). Hilliard (Ohio) Darby's Taylor Price (6-1, 195) turned an impressive 4.29-second 40-yard time at OSU's camp and could get a look.

Safety

* In The Fold (7): Nate Salley* (Sr.), Brandon Mitchell (Jr.), Donte Whitner* (Jr.), Curt Lukens (So.), Nick Patterson (R-Fr.), Anderson Russell (Fr.), Donald Washington (Fr.).

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

* Verbals For 2006 (0):None.

* Analysis: Salley (6-3, 220) 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, 205) split time at strong safety last year with Everett, 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.

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. Even though he has two years of eligibility left, Mitchell has already received his bachelor's degree. He'll be in graduate school this fall. At this rate, he could have his Ph. D. by the time he leaves.

Lukens (6-3, 215) redshirted in 2003, piling on 28 pounds so he could play linebacker. He then suffered a shoulder injury and was lost for the 2004 season. He has trimmed back down 13 pounds to 215 so he could play safety.

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 2007, maybe longer, with Patterson and now Russell and Washington 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 – at least it was when Mel Tucker was the position coach). OSU has offered New Jersey's Antwine Perez (6-2, 200). Other possibilities could be Worthington Kilbourne's Jordan Gafford (6-0, 195), California's Grant Schwartz (6-0, 200), Columbus Brookhaven's Mike McGee (6-1, 190), Miamisburg's Cody Blevins (6-2, 195) and Massachusetts' Chris Fox (5-11, 195; cousin of Dustin Fox, son of Tim Fox).

Kickers/Punters

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

* In Limbo (1): Kicker Jonathan Skeete (R-Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (3): Punter Tyson Gentry (R-Fr.), kicker Ryan Pretorius (R-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 also need to find a new punter as Kyle Turano, who started in 2004, was not granted a sixth year of eligibility.

Huston (6-1, 195) did get a sixth year, though, 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.

Skeete (5-10, 195) would have been right in the thick of this competition. But he is currently suspended from the team after his arrest this past spring for drug trafficking. It is unclear whether Skeete will ever be welcomed back. He may to have his charges reduced to a misdemeanor to make that work.

Shortly after Skeete's arrest, OSU apparently opted to elevate Pettrey (5-10, 190) to scholarship status. He was originally supposed to enroll as a walk-on this fall before later going on scholarship. He sat out last fall as a grayshirt.

Pretorius (5-10, 190) has an interesting story as a 26-year-old walk-on from South Africa.

Trapasso (6-1, 220) 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 last year. He joined the team after the first game and solidified his position. In the spring, he appeared to lock down 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 Pettrey 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 Gentry and Thoma, who would go on scholarship as well if they win jobs.

Here are the archives from the previous installments of the preseason 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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