The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics on the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like today’s that projects some interceptions? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
Creating turnovers dipped last year, especially INTs. Will this improve in '18 and who will have the most INTs?
— Tom Scurlock (@TAS1372) July 22, 2018
The interception department at Ohio State’s NFL Defensive Back Assembly Factory did take a bit of a hit last year, which probably shouldn’t have been a huge surprise since it was replacing three first-round picks at once. Overall, though, the Buckeyes didn’t really suffer much for it, nearly matching the raw turnover total thanks to a boost in fumble recoveries that helped offset the decline in picks — albeit with an extra game to try to match it. But even with that caveat, boosting that number up again this season is absolutely an emphasis for defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and a pair of new assistants in the secondary.
There is another new, rich professional to replace for the Buckeyes in the secondary now that Denzel Ward is gone. But Ohio State should be in better shape to start generating more turnovers simply by having more experience returning this season. There will be no learning curve needed for cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield, Damon Arnette or even Jeffrey Okudah this year, and Jordan Fuller’s presence at safety should provide both play-making and leadership for the Buckeyes. And while the other starting job is still open heading into training camp, Ohio State is probably in good hands with Isaiah Pryor expected to claim that role and newcomer Josh Proctor primed to compete for playing time right away.
Throw in some of Taver Johnson’s previous success grooming cornerbacks plus the aggressiveness that Alex Grinch is expected to inject as the co-defensive coordinator, and Ohio State should have the kind of techniques and schemes that generate results. And there’s really not a question about the talent level.
So, from that group, who will lead the way this season and inflate the interception numbers for the Buckeyes? The pick here is going to be Fuller, who really started to show his tremendous upside last season and should put himself in even more spots to get his hands on the football moving forward. The junior has impressive athleticism, which is a useful place to start. But his intelligence and ability to diagnose what he’s seeing should turn him into a real pain for opposing quarterbacks this season.
Sheffield looks to be the latest first-round model waiting to be shipped off to the NFL from the Horseshoe, and it’s kind of surprising given how well he was playing down the stretch last season that he finished without an interception. If teams don’t wind up testing him much this year, it’s obviously going to be a challenge for him to lead the Buckeyes in picks. But among the cornerbacks, Sheffield feels like the most likely contender to post better individual numbers and generate more takeaways for Ohio State.
Truthfully, that race might wind up being pretty wide open thanks to all the talent the Buckeyes have assembled. And that heated individual battle to lead the team should work out quite nicely for Ohio State as a whole.
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