Following the 2019 season, Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade had an NFL decision to make. Even though he was just a redshirt sophomore, he had done enough to warrant the loftiest of thought processes.
With prototype NFL cornerback size and measurables, there would have certainly been a place for Wade in this spring’s NFL Draft. Instead, however, he decided to return. That decision was made for a number of reasons, and improving his draft stock was definitely on the list.
Last season, Wade spent the majority of his time playing on the inside, defending slot receivers and tight ends. To really explode as a draft prospect, however, he needs to prove that he can handle the outside receivers as well.
There is no doubt at Ohio State that he will do just that, but it doesn’t just happen.
“I think it means the world, first of all, that he came back,” said new OSU defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs. “My first conversation with Shaun about this was this: you don’t become a first-round pick because you came back. You don’t get to be a top-10 pick because you came back. A year older doesn’t make any difference right? You’ve got to go to work, and you’ve got to get started. There are things that you’re going to have to do to make that happen.”
While this will be a fourth-straight year with a new coach handling cornerbacks for the Buckeyes, Coombs is the guy who recruited Wade and coached him his first year as a Buckeye. There is familiarity there and the trust was built long ago.
And now having spent two years with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Coombs is even better equipped to help Wade reach his goals than he was when the two of them first started out on this journey.
“The beauty of this deal is that now I know what it looks like on every side,” Coombs said. “I know exactly what he’s going to have to do and what the expectations will be when he gets there. And we’ve got to get to work. When we’re allowed to work, we’ve got to work, and he’s got to do a lot of work on his own to make that happen. Can he do that? Absolutely. Does he have the potential to be the same as all those other guys? Absolutely. What he does between now and August whatever-it-is when we come to training camp is going to dictate a large part of it.”
This spring, Jeff Okudah will become the sixth Buckeye cornerback coached by Kerry Coombs to be selected in the first round, and the fourth selected in the top 11. Granted, Coombs was only at Ohio State for Okudah’s freshman season, but you get the idea.
To put it another way, Kerry Coombs has seen his fair share of first-round selections come through Ohio State.
For Wade, however, the sights are a bit higher than simply the first round. Many believe he could end up right where Okudah will be as a top five pick, or where Denzel Ward was as the No. 4 selection in the 2018 draft, or Marshon Lattimore at No. 11 in 2017, or Eli Apple at No. 10 in 2016.
How can Wade make that happen?
“First of all, he’s got to play on the outside,” Coombs said. “He’s got great length. He can run. He’s got to demonstrate that he can go against the No. 1 receivers in the country, week in and week out, the best guys on the other guy’s team and eliminate them from the offense. If you can do that, you’ve got a great chance.”
The funny thing is that’s all Shaun Wade has ever wanted. But there will still be a learning curve for him and Coombs already has plans on how to prepare him for what’s to come.
“You’re not going to win every play, but you’d better win most of them,” Coombs said. “We know what that looks like. He’s got to accept that challenge. He’s got to do a lot of film study. He’s got to get better at the line of scrimmage in his technique. He’s been playing inside. It’s a different technique. He’s got things that he’s going to have to work on, and he will. I really believe that he will.”