Call it cliche, done, oversaturated or any other likewise name, but great programs don’t rebuild.
Ohio State football, a program that has finished outside the Associated Press Poll top 6 only once since 2011, has proved capable of restocking its shelves.
Eight starters from Ohio State’s No. 1 total defense are gone, but with players such as sophomore safety Josh Proctor and freshman defensive end Zach Harrison rising through the ranks, Buckeye fans have little reason to fret.
“I think the groundwork has been laid moving forward. And I think there’s a lot of credibility now, and I think there’s some real good leadership there,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “And these guys have tasted it now. They’ve been in the semifinals here, some of the younger guys. I think they’re just going to be hungry moving forward as we get into the next season.”
While the list of departures from the Buckeye defense reads like a who’s who of projected top NFL Draft picks and All-Big Ten performers, the list of names replacing them reads like a who’s who of former four- and five-star prospects, some of which have already flashed their potential.
On the departing side, junior defensive end Chase Young won multiple national defensive player of the year awards this past season and set a school record for sacks. Also leaving is junior cornerback Jeff Okudah, one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the best defensive back in the nation.
But there’s talent waiting in the wings.
Harrison, an Ohio product and former five-star, will join a deep core of defensive ends to replace Young.
“He can fly,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “He’s long. Came out of high school, he was a big track guy. I remember watching him, actually, in high school. The boy can run.”
With senior Jonathon Cooper, who took a redshirt in 2019 following an injury, sophomores Tyler Friday and Tyreke Smith and redshirt freshman Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Ohio State’s edge rushers will have 123 combined career tackles and 17.5 sacks entering 2020.
Three starting defensive tackles are gone, but three others who rotated with them have stayed. Sophomore Taron Vincent, another former five-star, also returns from injury.
The Buckeye secondary suffered perhaps the biggest losses, with Okudah, senior safety and two-time captain Jordan Fuller and redshirt senior cornerback Damon Arnette, named second-team All-Big Ten in 2019, all gone.
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Shaun Wade will help secure the outside. Junior cornerback Amir Riep, who intercepted two passes in 2019, will vie for playing time opposite him alongside two other cornerbacks who received significant playing time this past season: sophomores Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown.
It’s no mystery what top candidate will replace Fuller — sophomore safety Josh Proctor.
Proctor received more meaningful reps as the season progressed, with 13 tackles and one interception. It culminated in the Big Ten Championship Game with a thundering hit placed on Wisconsin junior quarterback Jack Coan.
“He has so much talent,” Fuller said. “His progression from when he first got here — he’s just a completely different player, completely different demeanor, everything.”
Perhaps the biggest departure in the secondary was its coach, co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who now takes the helm at Boston College.
In his stead, Day hired Kerry Coombs, a coach who churned out NFL Draft picks like the Hershey Co. produces chocolate.
“Kerry Coombs is the coach I was really hoping we could hire and bring back to Ohio State,” Day said in a press release. “He is an excellent coach, and he has had two outstanding seasons in the NFL on Mike Vrabel’s staff with the Tennessee Titans.”
Senior Malik Harrison is the only player the Buckeyes lose at linebacker, and they return three starters in redshirt junior Tuf Borland and juniors Baron Browning and Pete Werner.
Although the talent pools overflow to the NFL Draft for Ohio State, there remains plenty of water left to fill the defense.