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- Buckeyes hold seventh practice of preseason.
The Big Ten Network set up camp outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as the Ohio State Buckeyes practiced Saturday. Dozens of reporters and photographers watched the first part of practice as well.
The seventh preseason practice will be the last the media sees until bowl season. From now until January, everything Ohio State does in preparation for game day will take place behind closed doors with the exception of photographs or video from practice Ohio State releases on social media.
Every position group gets its time talking to the media this month, and Saturday, the safeties took their turn. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and the two safeties who have appeared in games for the Buckeyes, seniors Damon Webb and Erick Smith, gave their take on a group trying to regroup from the loss of Malik Hooker to the NFL.
“He set the standard for us,” said Webb, a graduate of Cass Tech High School in Detroit. “There’s no sagging off. It’s up to us. We’ve got to raise the bar.”
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Hooker started one season for the Buckeyes but made the most of it, earning unanimous All-America honors in 2016. He returned three interceptions for touchdowns and ranked third in the nation with seven interceptions. The Indianapolis Colts drafted Hooker with the 15th pick of the first round.
The player most likely to fill Hooker’s shoes is Webb, the only returning starter in the secondary. He started all 13 games last season opposite Hooker and recorded 70 tackles and one interception.
“I think Damon is the one guy who practices like a big-time player,” Schiano said. “He’s picked up right where he left off. He’s in tremendous condition, the best shape of his life. He understands it better than anybody on the defensive backs end. We need him to have a good year.”
Webb played in eight games as a true freshman in 2014 and seven the following year. He switched from cornerback to safety last season. Now he knows the younger players will watch what he does.
“The spotlight is on you to make the right decision,” Webb said. “When they see you not doing right, they’re not going to do right. When you have enthusiasm, they’re going to have enthusiasm. It’s up to me to go out each and every day knowing I have people looking up to me. I have to bring the juice every single day.”
Smith, of Cleveland Glenville High School, has plenty of experience, even though he has never started a game. He appeared in 33 games in his first three seasons. A knee injury forced him to miss the last five games of his sophomore season.
“When I first got hurt, the day of my MRI, when they told me what I hurt,” Smith said, “man, I just had to reset my entire thought process and start over.”
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Now Smith is competing for playing time with younger players like sophomore Kendall Sheffield, a junior college transfer from Blinn College, and sophomore Jordan Fuller, of Norwood, N.J. Redshirt freshman Jahsen Wint, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and true freshman Isaiah Pryor, of Lawrenceville, Ga., are also in the mix.
“We’d love to be able to play more than two guys,” Schiano said. “That would be ideal. You’re not going to do it at the cost of performance. If it’s a dead heat, until somebody pulls away, you play them both. The one guy you want out there is Damon Webb because he runs things. Even last year, he was the one making the calls.”