May 16, 2013

Spring grades: safeties

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice now in the books, we find ourselves just three months away from the opening of Urban Meyer's second fall camp as the head coach at Ohio State. With that in mind, we're taking a look back at what we've seen and learned from each position group throughout this offseason, continuing with today's look at the Buckeyes' safeties.

Spring grade: B

Truthfully, a more accurate grade for the Ohio State safeties this spring would be that of "incomplete," but that seems like a copout. The position's depth has been depleted by injuries to sophomores-to-be Devan Bogard and Najee Murray, but a pair of three-year starters return in the form of Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett.

What the Buckeyes still have behind their two veterans remains to be seen, although it was Ron Tanner and Corey Brown who handled backup duty this spring. The OSU coaching staff knows what it has in Bryant and Barnett, both of whom have been praised for their leadership abilities, but will be relying on plenty of youth should either miss significant time this fall.

Spring surprise: Corey Brown

He might be late to the party, but Brown is ready to make an impact. A fifth-year senior, Brown's on-the-field contributions have been limited during his time at Ohio State, but the Buckeyes coaching staff likes what it's seen this spring from the player affectionately nicknamed "Pittsburgh."

"I think Pittsburgh's done a really good job of trying to every day come to work. We put him in a lot of different positions," OSU safeties coach Everett Withers said. "He's playing strong safety, he's playing nickel, he's playing dime, so he has a little bit more on his plate sometimes than some of the other guys."

To be determined: Will they need more than two?

With the lack of depth that the Buckeyes safeties displayed in the spring and Bogard and Murray recovering from major knee injuries, any time missed by Bryant and/or Barnett would be crucial to the Ohio State defense. Barnett did miss some playing in time in 2012, but Orhian Johnson proved capable of filling in admirably.

Whether Brown will be able to -- or even need to -- do the same or not this spring remains to be seen. But for now Withers and the rest of the Buckeyes coaches will continue to rely on their senior leaders until further need be.

Looking ahead: Vonn Bell

Perhaps the highlight of 2013's National Signing Day for Ohio State fans was Bell's decision to choose to play for the Buckeyes over Alabama and Tennessee, and for good reason. After all, the five-star prospect is the fourth-ranked safety in the country, and figures to make his presence felt at the college level sooner rather than later.

Withers, who recruited Bell out of Rossland, Ga., is hopeful that the prized prospect will be able to add depth at a number of positions in his freshman season.

"His development in the scheme will be crucial," Withers said. "Hopefully he can fit and be able to help us in some of those sub packages, nickel and dime, and maybe even at the free safety position, help us be able to provide some depth there."


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