Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah had very different paths to Ohio State.
Okudah was one of the most sought after players in the 2017 recruiting class and the top-ranked cornerback in the nation. A top 10 player nationally, he committed to Ohio State just days before enrolling.
Arnette, meanwhile, may owe his past five years at Ohio State to Jamel Dean’s ACLs.
The Buckeyes signed Dean, Denzel Ward, and Joshua Norwood to play cornerback in the 2015 class. Dean was an early enrollee and when he was looked over by the Ohio State doctors, they determined that they wouldn’t medically clear him to play football at OSU.
This left Urban Meyer scrambling for another cornerback, and they quickly went back to work on Damon Arnette, who they had offered back in the summer. Arnette — a 3-star prospect and the No. 62 corner in the nation — was committed to South Carolina, but after an official visit to Ohio State the week before signing day he soon decommitted from the Gamecocks and signed with the Buckeyes.
Arnette arrived on campus with an injury and redshirted as a true freshman. As a redshirt freshman, cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs talked about him possibly finding his way into a four-man rotation at corner with Marshon Lattimore, Denzel Ward, and Gareon Conley. He fell just short, however, and had to wait his turn.
Arnette did spend the last three years in the starting lineup for the Buckeyes, with the last two of those years being spent right alongside Okudah.
The media named Arnette an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection in 2017 and 2018. The media wasn’t as impressed with Okudah in his first season starting in 2018, leaving him off their list entirely. The coaches saw enough to name him Honorable Mention, however.
This past season, both sides named Okudah first team and Arnette second team.
And now they must be replaced.
The good news here is that Third-Team All-Big Ten selection Shaun Wade returns for his fourth season. Wade manned the slot corner position last season and did it well enough that he had an NFL decision to mull over. He ultimately decided to return and will do so as an outside cornerback, replacing one of the two departed Buckeyes being talked about here today.
Cameron Brown is a junior who played more snaps than any other cornerback not named Okudah, Arnette, or Wade. Those snaps weren’t just in the fourth quarter of blowouts. He saw legitimate minutes while games were still in doubt. The same can be said for classmate Sevyn Banks, who broke up three passes last season, which was the most of any defensive back reserve.
Marcus Williamson is now a senior who has spent time dealing with injuries, though he may be a better candidate at Wade’s vacated slot corner position. Redshirt sophomore Tyreke Johnson came to Ohio State with 5-star expectations as the nation’s No. 2 safety. His first two years, however, have been a learning experience. He will now be learning from his third position coach in three years.
The Buckeyes also signed a pair of cornerbacks in the 2020 class. Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts have both enrolled and both obviously have promise. Fellow 2020 signee Cameron Martinez could also get a look outside upon his arrival.
Kerry Coombs said he wants to get back to a three-man rotation at cornerback, but that may not be possible because somebody is going to have to fill Wade’s old position as slot corner/strong safety.
All expectations are that Shaun Wade will be fine, so there are is very little concern pointed in his direction.
Coombs has said that all cornerbacks start outside and then they’ll move inside as he sees what they can and cannot do. Perhaps the non-winner of the competition between Banks and Brown opposite Wade then moves inside? That position requires a special type of player with a unique set of skills, and everyone saw against Michigan and Clemson how important stellar play is at that position.
The Best Bets
Shaun Wade will be an elite cornerback in 2020 and then be one of the top prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. ]
Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown probably could have made a pretty good trio with Wade — and perhaps they still may, but it will require somebody stepping up inside, be it Marcus Williamson or Tyreke Johnson or one of the freshmen.
Labeling something a “best bet” in the Ohio State secondary right now is difficult because there are so many things that have yet to shake out.