The Breakdown: Safeties

Ohio State has to replace mainstays Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell at the safety position, but there are no shortage of contenders for the two spots. Take a look at the entrants in the penultimate edition of The Breakdown.

7 – Jermale Hines
6-1, 216
Cleveland Glenville
Career: A four-star player coming out of Cleveland Glenville, Hines was billed as an athlete without a position, but he's found a home in the Buckeye back seven. He missed the opening half of his freshman career because of eligibility issues but was impressive enough to earn playing time immediately upon clearance. Hines earned his first real time on the field in 2008 and made four starts as Ohio State's "star" (hybrid linebacker/safety), piling up 31 tackles and two fumble recoveries. He took over as a starting safety in game two last year and started eight straight games before an injury and senior Anderson Russell's play prompted a change. Hines finished the year with 57 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.

Standout Performances: Picked up seven tackles in 2008 vs. Troy. … Returned a fumble for a touchdown vs. Michigan State. … Earned his first career sack in 2009 vs. Navy. … Made interceptions vs. Illinois and Wisconsin, returning the latter pick for a touchdown. … Set a career high with 11 tackles in the game against the Badgers. … Made two tackles for loss in the win at Michigan.

Outlook: Hines seems penciled in to return to his starting role at safety he held for much of last season. He's an excellent run-support safety and a solid open-field tackler with plenty of playing time under his belt. He could also reprise his role at star in certain situations to open a spot for another safety on the field.

19 – Orhian Johnson
6-2, 203
St. Petersburg, Fla./Gulfport Boca Ciega
Career: One of the few players to choose to attend Ohio State on National Signing Day in recent seasons, Johnson did so in 2008. After redshirting his freshman season, he played in 11 games last season with 10 tackles.

Standout Performances: Made three stops as the team's fifth linebacker at Indiana with Kurt Coleman out because of suspension.

Outlook: Though Tyler Moeller could see time at safety (or star or linebacker), Johnson figures to see plenty of playing time in any defense the Buckeyes come up with. The rangy Johnson has done his job when asked up to this point and will be expected to make plays, not mistakes.

Coach Comment: "If you look at him, he's got everything that you want in a safety. He's long, he's got good range. I think with him it's just experience. Now that he's getting the reps and has to make all the calls, he's coming along." – safeties coach Paul Haynes

20 – Nate Oliver
6-0, 215
Cleveland/Lakewood St. Edward
Career: The first commitment in the class of 2007, Oliver redshirted that year before making eight tackles on special teams a year later. Last season, Oliver again took part on special teams and made six tackles in 10 games. He also had an interception in the spring game.

Outlook: Oliver spent the spring working as the Buckeyes' first-team star to get used to the position. He's waited his time at OSU, but the competition in the back seven is crowded. Oliver figures to get playing time in some way or another, but a strong camp would serve him well.

Teammate Comment: "He came in with me as a freshman so this is his fourth year, too. It's just the way he carries himself out there, the communication with us and things like that that gives me confidence that he's going to be out there and ready to make plays." – cornerback Devon Torrence

16 – Zach Domicone
6-3, 211
Beavercreek, Ohio
Career: A three-star player in the class of 2008, Domicone came on the radar late but impressed with his size and speed. He redshirted his first year before earning some special teams work in 2009, making four tackles in six games.

Outlook: Domicone stands out on the field because of his size and is working his way up the depth chart, playing with the second team during spring camp. He figures to play on special teams again and have a crack at earning time as a reserve on defense.

8 – Aaron Gant
6-0, 206
Detroit/Orchard Lake St. Mary's
Career: Gant is now in his fifth year as a Buckeye, but he played his freshman year of 2006 and made 10 tackles as a backup safety. He battled a foot injury in '07 – and made a fumble recovery – before making seven tackles as a junior in 2008. Last year, he missed the season because of a pair of knee surgeries.

Outlook: Gant has seemingly been a No. 2 safety since he arrived at Ohio State and has earned time as a reserve, but last year's knee injury threatened to cut his career short. The arthritis figures to continue to hurt him, but he'll give it a final shot in 2010 and should play special teams if able.

Player Comment: "My goal is to play safety, to take one of the safety spots and help out any way I can whether it be on special teams or at a safety spot. … I'll give it my all. If my knee doesn't cooperate and I can't go then I think I'll hang it up. If I can't go, then I know I tried."

4 – C.J. Barnett
6-0, 190
Dayton/Clayton Northmont
Career: A four-star cornerback, Barnett has been compared to Coleman, his fellow Thunderbolt in high school. Those comparisons could get stronger because Barnett moved to safety early in his OSU career. As a special teamer and part-time reserve, Barnett made four tackles in seven games in 2009.

Outlook: Barnett seems to have all the intangibles and off-field skills to make a big impact at Ohio State. It will be interesting to see if he continues to stick at safety – a position he was still learning in spring – or if he moves back to corner. The fact that he played a year ago shows the coaches like his skills, and he figures to again be a part of OSU's plans.

21 – Jamie Wood
6-1, 198
Pickerington (Ohio) Central
Career: One of the top 10 safeties in the class of 2009 and a four-star prospect, Wood took a redshirt last season.

Outlook: He figures to play on special teams and might get a shot at earning time at safety. Wood could be a future impact player but has plenty of climbing to do on the depth chart.

23 – Chad Hagan
6-0, 230
Canonsburg (Pa.) Canon-McMillan
Career: A three-star prospect, Hagan has undergone procedures to correct a heart condition that threatened him during exercise. In school, he was a second-team all-state selection as a senior who also played basketball and participated in track and field.

Outlook: Hagan boasts an intriguing combination of size and speed; how it combines on the football field will be the litmus test. If he's the real deal, he could see time early in his Buckeye career.

Coach Comment: "We recruit the kid. Chad is a good kid. We like him. If something were to happen and he wasn't able to play, he would still be a part of this program." – linebackers coach Luke Fickell

34 Nate Ebner (6-0, 200): A former standout rugby player, Ebner walked on at OSU and quickly found himself playing on special teams a year ago, making seven tackles in 11 games. He's a fantastic athlete who should continue to surprise.

29 Chris Maxwell (6-2, 215): Given his size, Maxwell stands out. He's a player who could make some noise and see the field at some point.

Committed for 2011Ron Tanner, Columbus Eastmoor Academy, 6-1, 190; Scout's No. 7 S in 2011. A local kid, Tanner appears to have the size, athletic ability and smarts to be a fine safety at OSU.

Jeremy Cash, Plantation, Fla., 6-2, 190; Scout's No. 23 S in 2011. Cash has been impressive since arriving at Ohio State's camp last summer in business attire. He's both a fine athlete and another OSU connection in Florida.

2011 Prospects – None.

Top 2012 Prospects Bam Bradley, 6-1, 195, Trotwood (Ohio) Madison; DeShawn Hall, 6-2, 200, Canton (Ohio) GlenOak

Buckeye Sports Top Stories