Football

Spring Breakdown: Can Ohio State Corners Get Back to Being ‘Best In America’

Snapshot

Ohio State loses starting cornerback Shaun Wade from last season, but does return the other starter in Sevyn Banks. (For our purposes, we are only considering the outside cornerback positions here and will cover the “slot corner” (from here on out known as “slot safety” or “strong safety” or “box safety”) with the safeties this weekend.) Along with Banks are four freshman-eligible possibilities, assuming all of the names in the depth chart below are actually out wide and somebody like Cameron Martinez or Lejond Cavazos hasn’t be moved to safety. Fourth-year junior Tyreke Johnson returns as well. He’s a veteran, but doesn’t have as many snaps as you’d like. Denzel Burke is the only one of the three freshman cornerbacks enrolled early for the Buckeyes. Fifth-year senior Marcus Williamson could also appear here, but he’s spent most of his time in the slot, so the assumption is that that will continue.

Spring Depth Chart

Cornerback
7 Sevyn Banks (Sr)
4 Lejond Cavazos (rFr)
10 Cameron Martinez (rFr)

Cornerback
16 Ryan Watts (rFr) OR
13 Tyreke Johnson (rJr)
26 Denzel Burke (Fr)


Three Questions

  1. Will a second reliable cornerback emerge this spring?
  2. How much growth can the redshirt freshmen make during their first spring?
  3. Is this where Sevyn Banks takes over as the leader of the secondary?

Expectations

Expect some growing pains from this group. Four of the six players listed in the depth chart have freshman eligibility and Watts is the only of the three redshirt freshmen who saw any time on defense last season (and it wasn’t much.) Sevyn Banks has his critics and he will give up some plays to Chris Olave this spring but so will first-round NFL corners in 2022. Banks should be fine as he continues to take the customary steps toward becoming an NFL cornerback. This isn’t Tyreke Johnson’s last opportunity to earn a role on this defense, but he’s getting there. If it doesn’t happen this spring, it won’t be any easier in August.


What Needs to Happen

A starter opposite Sevyn Banks must be found. Now, that guy may not be the eventual starter this season, but having three guys you trust to start this season isn’t exactly a bad thing. If they don’t find that starter, then you’re hoping a guy returning from an Achilles injury or a true freshman who has yet to enroll will be able to get the job done. Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and secondary coach Matt Barnes need to find another cornerback they are comfortable with. There will be plenty of reps this spring according to head coach Ryan Day, which means there will be enough information to determine just how good the guys have performed. A second starter is imperative. Or, if they can’t find a starter, at least put some guys on the path to get there by September.


Worst Case

The worst-case scenario here would be none of the young corners pushing for a higher spot on the depth chart and Ohio State leaving camp with no real answer opposite Sevyn Banks other than perhaps Tyreke Johnson alongside of him simply because he’s older. A job needs to be won and if it’s by default, that would be bad news. If that does happen, that could increase the chances of one of the incoming freshmen earning a spot in the rotation this season. JK Johnson and Jordan Hancock were two of the highest-rated corners in the 2021 recruiting cycle and if there are no answers provided this spring, maybe those two will help clarify things in fall camp.


Keep An Eye On

The redshirt freshmen will be interesting to watch. Lejond Cavazos was injured for much of the season and never got on the field. Ryan Watts played in four games, seeing time on defense in just two of those games. Cameron Martinez played in two games, both on special teams. Cavazos and Watts enrolled early last year and even though they got their spring and summer taken from them they should be primed to compete this spring. Martinez didn’t enroll early but last year was a such a mess that it may not even matter. Those guys got to experience one of the most difficult seasons a college football player could expect to have. They had no choice but to grow from it. Those pains from last year could have them reaching considerable heights this season, and the first evidence of that would happen this spring.


One Last Thing

Fourth-year junior Cameron Brown won’t be taking part in any physical contact this spring as he returns from an Achilles injury he suffered early last season. Head coach Ryan Day does expect him to take part in some individual drills towards the end of spring camp, which is promising, but he won’t be competing for a job until fall camp. Given his experience, he will still likely be the cornerback opposite Sevyn Banks when we do this exercise again in the two weeks leading up to fall camp. Returning to form from an Achilles injury is a tough ask in year one and for a supreme athlete like Brown, it could take a bit longer for him to round back to full strength.


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