This spring, the Ohio State football program sent yet another cornerback into the first round of the NFL Draft, as Denzel Ward joined Bradley Roby, Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore, and Gareon Conley as first rounders since 2014.
The trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon, either. While much of the success is rightfully chalked up to coaching, the talent and traits of the players being brought in must first meet Ohio State’s requirements. The problem with that, however, is that the amount of players who meet those requirements is not a very long list.
“There’s not a ton, because we’re looking for longer, athletic, fast guys,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said following spring ball. “So that really dwindles the pool, and those are just physical characteristics. Then we want good people, great workers, good students, all that stuff. So just picture how that whittles down the pool as you go. So we scour the nation for those kinds of prospects.”
Fortunately for Ohio State, those long, tall cornerbacks they have been targeting — like first and second-year players Jeff Okudah, Shaun Wade, Tyreke Johnson, and Sevyn Banks — have also been the right type of people. Each has spoken of the impact that OSU’s Real Life Wednesdays had on their respective decisions to become Buckeyes.
It’s not just the tall corners that Ohio State is looking for, however, because sometimes guys come along like Denzel Ward and Marcus Williamson who might top out at 5-11, but they make up for their lack of height in a number of other ways. Ward is arguably the fastest corner in Ohio State history, while Williamson is the quickest corner on the team this year.
It’s not necessarily a “one size fits all” situation when recruiting corners, because there just aren’t that many out there. But the Buckeye coaches do certainly have a type of player they are looking for. Then they have to weigh every factor when it comes to which players they like best.
Further clouding the situation is that the coaches don’t always get to see these players actually playing cornerback.
“I was just in there with our defensive staff watching corners before we hit the road,” Schiano said. “Just one more time, ‘How do we stack these guys?’ And it’s hard in high school because as a high school coach, you often times put your best player at safety so he can make plays on both sides of the field. And you have to be able to project, does this guy have corner skills, even though you get to watch him do safety.”
Jeff Okudah was once ranked the top safety in the nation before he told the recruiting services that Ohio State was recruiting him as a cornerback. Freshman Tyreke Johnson came in as a 5-star safety, but he has only ever been looked at as a corner.
That doesn’t mean players stay at cornerback when they get to Ohio State, though. In fact, OSU sometimes recruits more corners than they need because they know one or two will end up at safety. It worked with Tyvis Powell, Damon Webb, and Jordan Fuller, after all.
Before moving a player, however, the coaches still want to get a look at what kind of cornerback they have. Depth charts and circumstances may also dictate a move to safety.
There’s a cavalcade of moving parts in every college football program, and finding talented cornerbacks is one of the most critical. Much of Ohio State’s success has been due to their ability to find and develop them better than anybody else.
“There’s a lot of challenges in recruiting,” Schiano said. “It’s been my experience, it’s a lot easier to evaluate corners from college to the NFL than it is high school to college.”
Excellent piece…..thanks, Gerd!
I am really hoping Wade and Okudah get a fair shot to compete for the starting job. CB should be the most open competition spot on the field this year. It’s the one position where there is no one who has earned the nod…even at LB there is Borland.
Okudah has already been named one of the three starters, fwiw.
We’ll see if he can keep the job. Nobody doubts him tho.
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