With Denzel Ward off to the NFL, fourth-year junior Damon Arnette is now the only cornerback on the Ohio State roster who has seen more than one season with the Buckeyes.
Kendall Sheffield transferred in from Blinn College last year and earned a starting spot in the three-man rotation. When Ward declined to play in the Cotton Bowl, Jeff Okudah stepped in as a true freshman and gave everyone a glimpse of what 2018 would look like.
Arnette, Sheffield, and Okudah left the spring as the intended three-man rotation this season, but there is the possibility that sophomore Marcus Williamson or redshirt freshman Shaun Wade could get involved there as well. Behind them are two true freshmen in Tyreke Johnson and Sevyn Banks.
Everywhere you look in the cornerbacks room, there is youth to be seen, and the players themselves talk about it.
“We sit down and talk about it a lot,” Okudah said this spring. “We want everyone to succeed. I wouldn’t say ‘youth takeover,’ but collectively, why not be the best unit on this football team?”
No team recruited or developed the position as well as Ohio State did under cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. Okudah was one of the rare cornerbacks who played right away as a true freshman. Past first-round NFL Draft picks like Bradley Roby, Eli Apple, Gareon Conley, and Marshon Lattimore all redshirted as true freshmen.
Denzel Ward also played as a true freshman, as have Okudah and Williamson. Shaun Wade would have played last season as well if not for an abdominal injury.
While the average age of the Buckeye corners is relatively young, the position is also one that matures players in a rapid manner.
“At Ohio State, I feel like you mature really quickly,” Okudah said. “Even though you’ve been here for one year, you feel like you’ve been here for two years. I can’t really imagine how guys who’ve been here for five years feel like. I’ve been here for only a year and I feel like I’ve picked up so much wisdom along the way. So I wouldn’t say that we feel like we’re not experienced. We’ve played in the Big Ten Championship, Cotton Bowl, it was an eventful freshman year. I feel like we’ve picked up a lot of experience and wisdom along the way.”
Experience and wisdom were also gained this spring as the Buckeyes worked hard to overcome the loss of Denzel Ward.
What was once a young group of cornerbacks grows older by the day. They may lack experience, but they do possess the understanding of what it takes to play, regardless of how congested the position may be.
The goals are the same for every cornerback on the roster, and the younger players know that if they are good enough to help the team, then they’ll be put in a position to make it happen.
“Everybody here, you know, you come, you have dreams to play and, especially with our unit, we are so tight knit and you can see it every play,” Williamson said. “Cover one man and if you do your job, you are going to play.
“It’s not really a competition thing. The guy that works hardest is going to get it. You know, the guy that makes the plays is going to be out there and we all understand that. We all just come in and try and make each other better and go out there and play.”