COLUMBUS — Ohio State has been an NFL factory in the secondary.
The Buckeyes have had professional talent at safety and cornerback in each of the last few seasons, and this year is no exception.
Jordan Fuller, who could have turned pro after his junior campaign, chose to come back to school and lead the Ohio State defensive backs into a new era with a new secondary coach and defensive coordinator. The new-look defensive will include a hybrid Bullet position, talent across the board and some unanswered questions. It will also hope to bounce back from a historically bad defensive season a year ago.
It’s Defensive Backs Week at Lettermen Row, and we have five burning questions for how things might shake out for the Buckeyes in the secondary.
Can Damon Arnette silence his doubters?
Damon Arnette has had his share of struggles on the field during the last three seasons, but he turned it on and was a key piece for the Buckeyes last year. Still, his past struggles linger over him heading into his final year with the program.
He’ll be expected to step into the No. 1 corner role, which will be coached by new defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, a former NFL coach who knows what it takes to be a great corner. He’s coached great ones. Arnette could be next in line as a first-round cornerback for the Buckeyes after this season, but first, he has to prove he can be the anchor on the back end.
How good can Jeffrey Okudah be?
Okudah came to Columbus with incredible expectation, as a 5-star recruit who was the No. 1 cornerback in the country for the 2017 class. After sitting behind first-round pick Denzel Ward as a freshman, Okudah found the field in rotation with Kendall Sheffield and Arnette a season ago, and he had a small impact.
Okudah will enter fall camp in a presumptive starting role, and he might not even have to rotate at corner like defensive backs of the last few years at Ohio State. Hafley is adamant about playing the best corners and not forcing a rotation if there aren’t three guys that stand out. What does that mean for Okudah? More opportunities to live up to that 5-star billing and become a superstar for the Ohio State defense.
How effective can the Ohio State Bullet position be?
Brendon White has solidified himself as an Ohio State playmaker, dating back to his break-out game last November against Nebraska. With the new defensive coaching staff, White is expected to be turned loose on the back end and play the new Bullet spot for the Buckeyes.
White’s expected to play the biggest role with the new defensive position, but his backup spot is open. Could Jahsen Wint take over as White’s understudy? That’s left to be decided. But expect to see White flying around the field as a hybrid guy for the Buckeyes this fall.
Will the Ohio State defensive backs turn and look for the ball?
The simple answer: Yes.
Hafley made sure to cover that in a press conference in the spring, and the answer brought some probable relief to Ohio State fans.
“Do you think that we as DB coaches sit there and say, ‘Don’t look back for the ball?’” Hafley said. “My wife used to come up to me after games and be like, ‘Hey, why don’t our guys turn back and look for the ball?’ I’m like, ‘Do you want to see my individual tape? All we do is practice turning and looking for the ball.’ DB coaches teach to turn and look for the football.”
So yes, Hafley plans on having the Buckeyes defensive backs turn and look for the football.
When will Buckeyes land a commit to join Lejond Cavazos?
When Ohio State landed a commitment from 5-star wide receiver Julian Fleming on Friday, Fleming immediately began recruiting for the Buckeyes. His first target: 5-star cornerback Elias Ricks, who is committed to LSU.
Ricks is a star, but since he’s already committed to LSU, the Buckeyes have been active on the recruiting trail, keeping contact with safeties Jordan Morant, Lathan Ransom and others. They’ve been heavily recruiting cornerbacks Clark Phillips III among other cornerbacks, as well. For now, Ohio State will continue to push hard for more talent to commit in the secondary.