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Football: Jordan Fuller hoping to replace Malik Hooker for Ohio State in 2017

OSU sophomore saftey Jordan Fuller speaks with the media on March 30 in the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex. Credit: Nicholas McWilliams | Sports Editor

Of all the players Ohio State has to replace from the 2016 roster, safety Malik Hooker might be the most difficult. Projected as a top-10 NFL draft pick, Hooker was everything to the Buckeye defense in 2016 with seven interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.

As spring practice continues, and with just two weeks from the annual spring game, sophomore safety Jordan Fuller is one of the players vying for that starting job.

“It’s a battle,” Fuller said. “I don’t see myself leading. I see a lot of guys just competing together.”

Returning at safety is senior Damon Webb, who started at safety opposite Hooker in every game last season, accumulating 57 total tackles. He said that just because he started last season doesn’t mean he has secured his starting spot in 2017.

“Right now, we don’t have any starters, even me,” Webb said. “So it’s great competition. We’re all just trying to get better.”

In addition to Hooker, the Ohio State defense also lost two potential NFL first-round cornerbacks in Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore is currently projected to be a top-5 draft pick and Conley to be taken early in the late first round.

Last season, Conley and Lattimore had four interceptions a piece, while each posted 12 and 13 passes defended, respectively. Hooker and Lattimore combined for a total of four defensive touchdowns that were essential for the Buckeyes.

Fuller played in all 12 games as a freshman — mostly on special teams — and accumulated 11 total tackles. He said he is well aware of the big shoes that he has to fill, but to him it’s just what comes with being a Buckeye.

“We’ve got to keep it in our mind,” Fuller said of his predecessors in the secondary. “It’s a standard here at Ohio State … Obviously it’s a big void but we’re all taking it on our shoulders.”

Fuller spent last year on the sidelines backing up Webb and getting comfortable with the defense. He said he was content with his role on the team and learned a lot from his teammates and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. Along with Webb, Fuller is competing for playing time with senior safety Erick Smith, whose career has been hampered with injuries.

With a spot open and a year under his belt, Fuller said it’s about putting it all together and making plays. Fuller, at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, believes he has some similarities to Hooker on the field.

“I think I have good range, like Malik,” Fuller said. “I think I can just make the plays necessary to hold the standard here.”

In his second year with the Scarlet and Gray, Fuller sees earning a starting spot as a milestone.

“It would mean the world to me,” Fuller said, “That’s why I work as hard as I do.”

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