COLUMBUS, Ohio — If there’s anyone who knows good safety play when he sees it, it’s Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.
In addition to coaching defensive backs for Penn State and the Chicago Bears, Schiano also coached future NFL Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed at Miami (Fla.) and top safety draft prospect Malik Hooker at Ohio State.
Given those credentials, Ohio State fans should be excited about Schiano’s assessment of senior safety Damon Webb. In his first year as a starter in 2016, Webb had an up-and-d0wn season. He returned an interception for a touchdown against Nebraska but also struggled more than his peers in the defensive backfield. The other 3 starters at cornerback and safety are a week away from becoming first-round picks. Webb just wrapped up his final spring practice.
By Schiano’s judgment — which is ultimately the one that matters — Webb delivered a spring for the ages.
“Right now, the guy who has performed like a starter is Damon Webb,” Schiano said. “He had his best stretch of football that I’ve ever seen. Now, I haven’t seen him that much but from what I’ve seen, that was his best stretch of football. He has a look about him and a focus, and I think this is going to be a huge summer for him. He’s going to come back and have a great senior year.”
What’s the difference between then and now? For starters, Webb probably wasn’t ever as bad as some fans think. He just happened to be compared against 3 likely first-round picks. On top of that, his status as a first-year safety — he began his career as a cornerback — meant teams probably were more aggressive when it came to taking shots at him.
Now, however, Webb has been through that experience and can rely on what he learned over those 13 games. Furthermore, he’s been putting in the work in the film room to make sure he goes out with a bang as a senior.
“He has a lot of experience now,” Schiano said. “When you got through that first year of really playing a position, every snap, you have all that tape to go back and learn from. You have the good experiences to expound upon, and the bad ones to realize you’ve got to get that fixed. He did an incredible job of studying himself. He tried to take those things and implement them this spring and really work hard.
“He’s also got that one year left before he’s done with his college career and you can see an increased urgency in everything he’s doing. We just had our exit meetings with players this week, and it was an interesting one with Damon. I think he’s an incredibly focused guy right now.”
If Webb lives up to that praise, it should bolster what is already one of the best areas on the team. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs has said that his position group is the deepest it’s ever been. Webb’s improvement could help the safeties match that level of production, especially with talented players such as Jordan Fuller and Erick Smith fight for the other starting spot.