What Caleb Downs39 transfer signing means for Ohio State football39s

What Caleb Downs' transfer signing means for Ohio State football's defense – cleveland.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio – By taking advantage of a second chance, Ohio State football has put the finishing touches on a defense that should be historic this fall.

Caleb Downs, whose first All-American season at Alabama nearly exceeded the expectations created by his five-star, top-10 prospect stats, committed to OSU through the transfer portal on Friday night. The Buckeyes missed out on that brilliant first season because they failed in a tough recruiting battle against the best coach of all time.

Nick Saban retired and Downs decided to make a belated move to Columbus. While some questions remain about OSU's offense, the only unanswered question about defense is whether this group will now challenge Georgia's 2021 squad as the best in the sport's recent history.

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Describing this defense without exaggeration becomes more difficult with each repetition and addition. Ohio State has added someone widely viewed as a future first-round NFL draft pick to the back end of a defense already stacked with future pros.

The secondary didn’t need any downs to shine next season. Seven of the eight defensive starters who were considered for the NFL Draft returned. Only Michigan scored more than two touchdowns against OSU last season, and there may not be a team as talented on the schedule this fall.

At Downs, dominance becomes the basic expectation. What the Buckeyes did last season wasn't far off. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles south, Downs was busy pitching for the SEC champions, who took national champion Michigan to overtime in the playoff semifinals.

Downs played free safety for Alabama, which happens to be one of the few positions where OSU didn't return a starter. Josh Proctor capped his eligibility with a strong sixth season, Malik Hartford, who showed promise as a true freshman, and Ja'Had Carter, in his second season after transferring from Syracuse, should compete for the spot.

However, Hartford did not perform as well as Downs. His 107 tackles led all rookies. He added three pass breakups and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus also credited him with 13 coverage stops, ranking fifth nationally, and named him a first-team All-American.

At 6-0, 203, Downs brings both physical presence and tremendous reach. In high school, he played everywhere on offense, including quarterback. The number of tackles proves his willingness and ability to start the run, but he was also a playmaker.

The sporting bloodlines are strong. His father, Gary, played six NFL seasons as a running back. His uncle, Dre Bly, was a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback. His brother Josh totaled 771 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season for the Colts.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles refers to the free safety in his system as an “adjuster,” as this man is responsible for making alignment corrections based on offensive formations. Since his talents and experience seem to mesh well there, OSU could, in a best-case scenario, have all three sure-fire starting spots.

Lathan Ransom returns for a third season as the starting bandit (Knowles' strong safety). He claims to be the toughest pound-for-pound player on the field. Ransom is eager to land big hits, but is also strong in coverage against larger groups and is already looking like a pro.

Jordan Hancock began his career as a cornerback and still has the coverage skills to thrive there. However, he has also shown that he can handle the nickel responsibilities and is physical enough to play the run as well. He shared this job with Sonny Styles until Ransom's season-ending injury forced Styles into banditry.

Maybe Knowles decides that a different time commitment at nickel will produce the best results, but that would mean limiting two of the top 11 defensive players to part-time duties. Adding downs could give OSU full freedom to move Styles to linebacker, where his 6-4, 230-pound frame doesn't need much extra mass to fit.

With cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Davison Igbinosun flanking all of the aforementioned players, this would already be considered the best secondary in the country. Ohio State allowed the fewest yards per pass attempt in the nation last season and ranked second in opponent quarterback rating. The nine touchdown passes allowed were one more than co-leaders Michigan and Notre Dame.

And Downs might be the best player on this defense right now. Some of the Buckeyes at the top might argue with that, as they may also have the best defensive line in the country. Burke might also object.

However, after what Downs did as a rookie, they'll all have it to prove when spring training begins.