They’re all gone.
Every starter on the Ohio State secondary, along with its coach, will be neither on the field nor on the sidelines for the Buckeyes at the start of the 2020 season.
That’s what many thought when it was announced that redshirt sophomore cornerback Shaun Wade would make his decision to stay in Columbus or declare for the NFL Draft Saturday in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.
Wade surprised many with decision to come back to Ohio State for another year, but Ohio State will still lose quite a bit from its 2019 defensive backs room.
Senior safety Jordan Fuller and redshirt senior cornerback Damon Arnette finished out their final years of eligibility in Columbus, while junior cornerback Jeff Okudah announced he will forego his.
All three players made an All-Big Ten team this season in both the coaches and media voting, a breadth of talent that will be difficult to replace in entirety come next year.
What’s more, defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley left the program for a head coaching opportunity at Boston College.
That means the upcoming crop of Buckeye defensive backs may not receive the NFL-caliber development that helped make Hafley a Broyles Award finalist for the best assistant coach in the country during a season when Ohio State’s defense made drastic leaps from the year before.
So, what now?
Following the news of Hafley’s exit, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said he’s committed to running the same defense even without his assistant coach and confidant.
That vision is a defensive scheme with a single high safety, a post Fuller occupied this season and one that allowed no room for junior Brendon White, the 2018 Rose Bowl MVP who barely got on the field this year. White transferred to Rutgers following the Big Ten Championship Game.
In Fuller’s place next season will likely be sophomore safety Josh Proctor, who recorded an interception and13 tackles in nine games this year.
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Proctor was a top 100, four-star prospect in the class of 2018 and the No. 7 safety in the country.
Perhaps his most memorable play from this season came in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.
Badgers junior quarterback Jack Coan scrambled toward the end zone from the 10-yard-line with room to run in the game’s final seconds. Instead of the pylon, Coan found a lunging Proctor, who quickly erased the running lane and buried his shoulder into Coan’s helmet. The Wisconsin passer crumpled out of bounds, while Proctor put an emphatic exclamation point on the Buckeyes’ third consecutive Big Ten title.
Facing little resistance en route to 13 blowout victories this season, Ohio State’s backup cornerbacks had plenty opportunity to accrue in-game experience off the bench, and some in big moments.
Wade flourished in his role as the inside cornerback for Ohio State this year, with Arnette and Okudah predominantly playing on the outside, but he said during his announcement that he would like to move outside come next season.
Three Ohio State cornerbacks that saw significant time this year will vie for time at the other slots.
Sophomore cornerback Sevyn Banks started for an injured Wade against Michigan, and Ohio State allowed senior quarterback Shea Patterson a 14-for-19 start in the first half.
When Wade was ejected for targeting in the first half against Clemson, it was junior cornerback Amir Riep that took his place.
Clemson immediately looked to exploit the matchup, tossing a deep ball to Riep’s receiver, and the Cincinnati native committed a pass interference that set up the Tigers’ first points of the game.
Sophomore Cameron Brown is another Buckeye corner who saw significant time in the Ohio State secondary this year in a backup role, though his 2019 impact will be most remembered for a roughing-the-punter penalty that extended a Clemson drive in the Fiesta Bowl.
All three had teachable moments this season, but looking at the improvements made by Arnette and Okudah this past offseason, Banks, Riep and Brown could all make strides.
While Hafley’s new job likely factored into the Buckeyes’ top defensive back recruit of 2020, Clark Phillips, flipping to Utah, Ohio State still signed three four-star prospects in safeties Lathan Ransom and Lejond Cavazos, as well as cornerback Ryan Watts.
All three are top 30 players at their position, and Ransom — whom Day said has a good chance of being a future Buckeye captain — is the fifth-highest-rated Ohio State recruit in the class, and the No. 5 ranked safety in the country.
The 2019 Ohio State secondary returned years of starting experience. The 2020 iteration returns only Wade.
But in a program where six Buckeye defensive backs have become first- or second-round draft picks since 2016, it’s likely that the “silver bullets” will reload and be just fine.