From Jack Tatum to Michael Doss, OSU has a well-deserved reputation for producing athletic and hard-hitting safeties. While we have more recent NFL-ers as cornerbacks, the safeties back up to no one, or to no one position.
This past season, the Buckeyes had as good a pair of safeties as OSU has seen in years, with Donnie Nickey and the aforementioned Doss. Experienced? Nickey started the past four years and Doss the past three. Both were team captains. You don't replace that kind of experience and moxie too easily.
But we have to try. Nickey and Doss were both superb against the run and slightly-less-than-superb against the pass. Some say that's the way the defensive design worked but, regardless, that's the way it was. When I look for replacements, I look just one position over at Dustin Fox. He will be an outstanding safety: hard-hitting and athletic (see above…) but a great cover guy, as well, with speed and experience. On the other side, we have Will Allen, who has been the nickel/dime back these past two seasons. Will is a surprisingly tough banger with good-if-not-great cover skills.
A "sleeper" in this mix could be Nate Salley, who has the players and coaches raving. A big, confident and aggressive kid, Nate will have an impact (so to speak) but he's not a starter yet. Also, look for sophomore-to-be Tyler Everett, who surprised a number of local analysts by playing a lot and playing fairly well. Other candidates for the 2003 safety positions include LeAndre Boone (will be a red shirt sophomore, from Virginia), Brandon Mitchell (to be a red shirt freshman, from Georgia) and Thomas Matthews (junior-to-be from Dillard HS in Florida).
Further complicating matters is the necessity of dividing the safeties into "strong" or "free" positions. Doss was the strong safety this year, coming up in run support and occasionally taking on a tight end. Nickey was the centerfielder (free safety) as the truly last line of defense.
Of the group coming up, I would suspect that strong safeties include Salley, Boone and Matthews. I figure Mitchell and Everett more for the free safety position. The two projected starters? I don't know. You almost wish that Fox could play both - he's that good! But you would have to position Fox as the free safety and Allen as the strong safety.
That means we will have a junior and senior starting next year with the likely back-ups being a junior (Matthews) and a freshman (Salley). Plus, we need nickel and dime guys, which would bring into play another freshman (Everett) and an unknown (Mitchell).
While we have kicked some serious recruiting booty (including Ashton Youboty…) at cornerback, we really haven't cleaned up for safeties. The two most obvious All-World kids are Prescott Burgess and Michael Bush. But since I already projected Burgess as either an OLB or a Wolverine, and since Bush projected himself as a quarterback, that leaves us with only one safety recruit: Curt Lukens. Lukens will remind you of a bigger faster Nickey (not so bad, eh?) but I still think he will be re-positioned as a bigger stronger outside linebacker in a couple years.
So who is left to look at? There is Travis Tolbert, a safety from Syracuse and then, the possibility that Dareus Hiley or an Ira Guilford moves over from cornerback. In fact, the guys-in-the-know say that's why we're going so hard after Guilford now - he will be a free safety at OSU.
In Ohio, the following year, the best DB is also a cornerback - heavy Buckeye lean Ted Ginn, Jr. So…
Dr. Recruitnik sez: It would be great to get Tolbert. And I think we have a 60%+ shot at Guilford. Otherwise, we will be scouring the nation next year, or re-positioning other players. We need a good one in this year's group, though. I'm guessing Ira Guilford, who fits the coaches' desires for more speed.