The Buckeyes are one of those rare teams that lost a starting cornerback early to the NFL over the offseason, yet still return two cornerbacks who are also considered starters. They do bring in two new secondary coaches, however, which is a significant change.
Fifth-year senior Damon Arnette and junior Jeff Okudah are back, and bring with them three seasons of experience in OSU’s starting rotation.
Three second-year corners return as well, in Cameron Brown, Sevyn Banks, and Tyreke Johnson.
Third-year junior Marcus Williamson has battled injuries. Also keep an eye on redshirt sophomore Shaun Wade, who could end up anywhere in the secondary.
It looks like the customary three-man rotation at cornerback for Ohio State is now over. There has been no talk about it this spring (though media only spoke with secondary coach Jeff Hafley once during camp). Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah are the incumbents, but both were dealing with new position coaches this spring, so they didn’t quite get the rest that many other veterans received. Both Arnette and Okudah performed well, and while the three-man rotation appears dead, it could be brought back to life if one of the young cornerbacks shows that he belongs.
“I remember the first time I had [Marshon] Lattimore up on a 30 visit, and I was so confused, I was like, ‘why are you rotating? If you’re going to be the top-five pick in the draft, what’s wrong with you? Why are you rotating?’ He’s like, ‘well, coaches rotate me.’ Then the next year, it’s Denzel Ward out. I’m like, ‘why are you rotating? What is going on here?’ He’s like, ‘well, the next guy is probably a first-round pick, too, Coach.’ And that just goes back to I didn’t get it at the time. I was like, what are they doing? But the next guy is a first-round pick, right? So it goes back to the question: If a guy is good enough to play, we have to get him on the field. And if he’s doing everything right, we have to find a role for him. So if we’ve got three first-round picks at corner, and I’m not saying we do, we’d better find a way to use him, right? So I think we’ll figure that out. We’ll figure it out.” — Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley on whether or not the Buckeyes will continue a three-man rotation at cornerback.
It’s not that Jeff Okudah is in a hurry to leave Ohio State, but most people outside of the program expect this to be his final year at Ohio State. If he continues to progress this season as he has during his first two years on campus, he could be one of the top cornerbacks in the draft next year. Nothing we saw this spring indicated any kind of backslide. He kept his spot all spring long and grew into a leader in the secondary. It will be interesting to see the improvements he makes under Jeff Hafley’s tutelage.
Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette were both Honorable Mention All-Big Ten last season. Arnette made both the media’s team and the coaches’, whereas Okudah was only mentioned by the coaches. That’s a pretty good foundation to build upon. Redshirt freshman Tyreke Johnson closed camp well. He was the only one of the three second-year guys who did not see action last year. You can see him running step for step with receivers in the spring game. Sophomores Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks both saw action last year, with Brown playing the first half of the season and Banks the second half. Neither appeared to be struggling this spring. In fact, Hafley seemed pretty happy when talking about his cornerbacks overall at the OSU coaches clinic a couple of weeks ago.
Damon Arnette gets grief from some Buckeye fans for his aggressive play, brash behavior, and his perceived penchant for penalties. The aggression and brashness were on display plenty this spring, and Arnette could be seen talking a bit after plays throughout the spring. He wasn’t alone, however, and generally getting as good as he got from the Buckeye receivers. As to the penalties, that’s more myth than fact. Arnette was flagged just five times in 14 games last year (once fewer than Jeff Okudah), and was whistled for pass interference just three times over the Buckeyes’ last 10 games. The media didn’t get to see much this spring, but nothing seen would indicate anything other than a solid spring for Arnette.
Shaun Wade spent most of the spring at safety and nickel, which is the real indicator that the rotation is dead at cornerback. Still, if something happens to Jeff Okudah or Damon Arnette, perhaps it would be Wade who would step in. He continued to drill with the cornerbacks at times throughout the spring and would be able to pick it back up pretty quickly if he needed to move over. Wade had a great spring in his role, however, so moving him would not be without a great deal of thought about the void he would be leaving at his current position.