Ohio State has major question marks surrounding its secondary this season. As the Buckeyes enter spring ball, they now have to figure out how to maintain the level of excellence that the defensive backs have had over the years, but with new faces and new numbers out on the field instead.
When defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs returned to Ohio State this winter he knew he would have his hands full trying to replace three of Ohio State’s four starting defensive backs from 2019. Jeff Okudah, Jordan Fuller, and Damon Arnette all left to chase their dreams of playing in the NFL.
But fourth-year junior cornerback Shaun Wade’s decision to return to the Buckeyes was significant, as Wade is now the backbone of the backfield.
“I mean Shaun coming back was huge,” head coach Ryan Day said. “I think Shaun, in my opinion, should be considered the top corner in the country coming back in all of football.”
Surrounding Wade are defensive backs who were not starters last season, but did spend time on the field playing meaningful snaps.
Junior corners Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks, and junior safety Josh Proctor all spent time on the field last season. But Wade, Brown, and Proctor were all limited in Ohio State’s first spring ball practice on Monday and are all listed on the injury report.
Lacking the leadership and experience in their uint, the younger defensive backs aren’t quite on their own for spring ball, but will have to make strides as individuals.
“Cam’s coming back and Sevyn’s coming back. And you’ve got some decent depth there in terms of reps,” Day said. “Now, some of the younger guys will have to step up. I think that’s the next thing.”
Day knows the limitations in the spring they are experiencing are only temporary. The guys who are participating in spring ball also gained game experience last season.
Day remains positive by thinking about the experience these players gained last season. Wade is the remaining starter from last season, Brown and Banks saw action in all 14 games of the 2019-20 season, and Proctor played in 11 games.
“You certainly want them out there,” Day said of Wade, Brown, and Proctor. “But, again, the best thing that happened to us was being in those games last year where they played a lot of football.
“There’s real football and real evidence of them playing in the Big Ten, which that’s pretty unique. We do know that; at the end of the day when we put our heads on our pillows — they played football.”
With an already depleted secondary due to players leaving and three key players being limited this spring, the Buckeyes need multiple players to step up and be ready to contribute in the fall, including those who didn’t see the field as much last season.
“There’s a lot of guys that got reps but haven’t played a significant role,” Day said. “Marcus Hooker and Marcus Williamson, both of those guys got reps last year. They have them under their belt. Josh Proctor, he’s been a little dinged up but we’ll get him back.
“And I think that combined with some of the younger guys that are going to have to play — we have [freshman safety] Lathan Ransom also coming in and [freshman defensive back] Cam Martinez as well. So our numbers will be right. Now it’s just a matter of can [freshman cornerbacks] Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos and those guys step up to play significant time this year. And that’s what the spring is for.”