Ohio State adds more DB depth via transfer portal

Keenan Nelson Jr. announced Friday he is going to be an Ohio State Buckeye.

A Philadelphia native, Nelson spent the last two seasons at South Carolina where he played in 15 games, including four starts.

He was credited with 13 tackles, including one for loss, and one pass breakup.

At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, he would appear to be a candidate to back up either deep safety spot in coordinator Jim Knowles’ 4-2-5 defense.

The Buckeyes are set with fifth-year senior Lathan Ransom returning as the starting “Bandit” (boundary) safety and sophomore transfer Caleb Downs, who was a Freshman All-American at Alabama last fall, at the “Adjuster” (field) safety positions, but the group behind them is small in numbers and thin on experience.

That is because four players transferred out of the room since the end of November and 2023 starting Adjuster Josh Proctor graduated.

A member of the class of 2022, Nelson will be one of the older scholarship players in a group of safeties that also includes sophomore Malik Hartford, redshirt freshman Jayden Bonsu and true freshmen Jaylen McClain and Leroy Roker.

The Nickel position is also considered a safety in Knowles’ scheme, but Ohio State had senior Jordan Hancock, redshirt junior Lorenzo Styles Jr. and sophomore Jermaine Mathews Jr. working at the Nickel safety during spring ball, and they are all cornerbacks by trade.

Cornerback is deep thanks to a recent restocking of talent by coach Tim Walton, who has senior Denzel Burke, junior Davison Igbinosun, redshirt freshman Calvin Simpson-Hunt and true freshmen Aaron Scott Jr., Miles Lockhart and Bryce West in addition to the trio of Nickels.

Nelson was a four-star prospect at St. Joseph’s Prep, the same school that produced former Buckeyes Marvin Harrison Jr. and Kyle McCord in the class of 2021.

In 247Sports Composite rankings, he was the No. 6 player in Pennsylvania and the No. 17 safety prospect in the country.

Ohio State signed two safeties that year, but Sonny Styles has moved to linebacker, and Kye Stokes transferred to Cincinnati over the winter.

The secondary enjoyed a strong 2023 after years of issues brought on at least in part by significant coaching churn since Ryan Day became head coach in 2019.

Jeff Hafley and Matt Barnes were his original secondary coaches, but Hafley left after one year to become head coach at Boston College.

He was replaced by Kerry Coombs, who was also defensive coordinator.

In 2022, Walton and Perry Eliano replaced Barnes and Coombs, but Eliano was not retained after his two-year contract ran out in January.

He has been replaced by Matt Guerrieri, who was co-defensive coordinator at Indiana last season but worked with Knowles previously at Duke.

Eliano coaxed improved play from the safeties, but he suffered some high-profile recruiting misses while Walton has been on a hot streak on the trail for two-plus years.

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