“Sometimes it helps to scold yourself, to give yourself advice.” ~ R.L. Stine
Robert Lawrence Stine, better known in literary circles as R.L. Stine, is a native Ohioan from Columbus, and a proud graduate of The Ohio State University. While Stine is a novelist with a focus on children’s literature, one might apply the quote above as we move onto the next position group to review, the 2018 Ohio State defensive backs.
While Ohio State’s returning defensive backs are talented, there are concerns within the position group for a variety of reasons. Regarding R.L. Stine’s quote, the people doing the scolding and giving the advice will be different for the secondary, as two new coaches will be coaching these players for the upcoming season.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing articles that will examine the various position groups within the team, leading up to the Ohio State Spring Game, scheduled for April 14th. These pieces will look at each position group from least concern to greatest concern, based upon the returning players, incoming recruits, and performances that were seen throughout the 2017 season.
With spring practice, the threat of injury is of paramount concern, and the possibilities of transfers during/following spring practice can have an impact upon the position rankings. As always, it is my sincere hope that these articles will spark discussion and dialogue, and I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I look forward to writing them. Moving on, a look at the 2018 Ohio State defensive backs.
Players Lost: CB Denzel Ward (declared for the 2018 NFL Draft), S Damon Webb (eligibility), S Erick Smith (eligibility)
Players Returning: CB Jeffrey Okudah (Sophomore), CB Kendall Sheffield (Redshirt Junior), CB Marcus Williamson (Sophomore), CB Shaun Wade (Redshirt Freshman), CB Damon Arnette (Redshirt Junior), S Wayne Davis (Redshirt Sophomore), S Jordan Fuller (Junior), S Amir Riep (Sophomore), S Isaiah Pryor (Sophomore), S Jahsen Wint (Redshirt Sophomore), S Brendon White (Sophomore)
Incoming Recruits: CB Tyreke Johnson, CB Sevyn Banks, S Josh Proctor, S Marcus Hooker
Why did I rank the defensive backs as a position of medium concern? The loss of talent from the position group is nothing new. Ohio State coaches, players, and fans have grown accustomed to elite talent from this group moving onto the NFL, as Denzel Ward and Damon Webb are both going to be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. It will not be shocking at all if Ward is among the first ten selections on the evening of April 26th.
The returning players have experience, as both Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette played extensively in 2017. They each made their share of mistakes, and both seemed to improve by the end of the 2017 season. Of the returning players at cornerback, Arnette had the best 2017 statistics, with 2 interceptions for 35 yards, 8 pass break-ups, 10 passes defended, 1 forced fumble recovery, 44 tackles, and 3 tackles for loss.
Sophomore Jeffrey Okudah, one of the highest-rated recruits from the 2017 recruiting class, should be in the mix at cornerback this fall camp, but will be sitting out this spring due to shoulder surgery.
Redshirt freshman Shaun Wade was also highly touted from the 2017 recruiting class, but missed the 2017 season due to an abdominal injury that forced his redshirt. This spring, two true freshmen enrolled early, in Tyreke Johnson and Sevyn Banks. All three of these players will be in the mix for a spot in the rotation, if not on special teams coverage.
For the first time since Urban Meyer took over as Ohio State’s head coach, the Buckeye cornerbacks, and the enthusiastic fan base, will be without Kerry Coombs patrolling the sidelines. Coombs accepted a job with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, and has been replaced on the staff with Taver Johnson as cornerbacks coach/special teams coordinator. While Johnson is no stranger to the Ohio State program, as a former assistant from 2007-2011, it is still going to be a period of adjustment for the cornerbacks to get used to Johnson’s coaching style and methods.
At the safety spots, junior Jordan Fuller returns as a starter, but Ohio State is losing a starter with Damon Webb. As Coach Meyer mentioned at the beginning of spring practice, “the field safety is a concern right now. You lost Damon Webb. Had a great year for us.”.
Isaiah Pryor would seem to be the next player in line, but how well will Pryor handle his coverage responsibilities? Playing as a reserve in 2017, Pryor played well, with 13 tackles, 1 sack, 2 passes broken up, and passes defended. As Tony Gerdeman wrote about Pryor, the position is there for the taking; it just remains to be seen if Pryor can win the job this spring.
[Editor’s note: Isaiah Pryor said on Thursday that he has switched to the boundary safety and Jordan Fuller has moved to the field safety.]
Returning safeties Wayne Davis, Jahsen Wint, and Brendon White will be joined by Amir Riep this spring, as Riep is moving from cornerback to safety. With the open position at boundary safety, now is the time for these players to try to move up the depth chart. True freshmen Josh Proctor and Marcus Hooker will be arriving this summer, and will be looking for opportunities to move up the depth chart.
Similarly to the cornerback position, the safeties will have a new voice directing them, with Alex Grinch joining the staff as co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach. Grinch will have talent to work with, but how much of an adjustment period will be needed for Grinch and the safeties to become acclimated to the new coaching style and techniques is yet to be answered.