COLUMBUS — Yet another NFL draft has come and gone. And again in the case of the Ohio State defensive line and secondary, it has plucked the best and the brightest stars, just when they had started to shine brilliantly, an almost annual occurrence for going on eight years now.
Woody Hayes never had this problem — or as current Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson might call it, the annual challenge.
Joey Bosa in the 2016 draft. Sam Hubbard in 2018. Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones last year. And on Thursday, Chase Young. The defensive linemen all flew the coop with a year of eligibility remaining, the Bosas and Young snatched in the upper reaches of their respective drafts.
Then look at the secondary where Bradley Roby’s early departure for the 2014 draft was the vanguard for a parade that has included Eli Apple and Vonn Bell in 2016, Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley in 2017, Denzel Ward in 2018, Kendall Sheffield last year and Jeffrey Okudah on Thursday. They were all first-round picks, except for Bell and Sheffield.
All those guys would have been major difference makers for the Ohio State defense had they returned for one more season. Instead, just as they had ripened, they were picked. Johnson long ago grew accustomed to the cycle.
“When you recruit great players and they develop into great people, you can almost expect them to leave in three years,” Johnson said. “So you have that expectation that if he’s good enough, he’s probably not going to be around very long.
“So you better do a great job of recruiting to make sure you’re ready to go with the next guy. I think that’s what we do really well. ‘You lost Joey Bosa. What are you going to do?’ Well, we’ve got his brother. Then all of a sudden we lose Nick. ‘What are you going to do?’ Well, we’ve got Chase Young.”
Now Young is gone. But folks paying attention know that veteran defensive end Jonathon Cooper is ready to return after missing almost all of last season due to injury. And they would see prized freshman Zach Harrison improve steadily last year, and upperclassmen Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste step forward.
It’s the same at defensive tackle, where Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett appear ready take on more of the load now that fifth-year, late-blooming predecessors DaVon Hamilton and Jashon Cornell have been drafted.
In the secondary, the exodus included seniors Damon Arnette at the other corner, also a first-round pick, and Jordan Fuller at safety, who went in the sixth-round. But back is star Shaun Wade at one of the corners, with Sevyn Banks, Cam Brown, Tyreke Johnson and Marcus Williamson ready to battle for starting spots along with Josh Proctor at safety.
“I’d like to keep them all forever. I’m not going to tell you I wouldn’t – they’re great players,” said Kerry Coombs, the new Ohio State defensive coordinator who is back after a two-year run with the Tennessee Titans.
He helped coach all of those before-mentioned Ohio State defensive backs now in the NFL, and helped recruit almost of them.
“I think what’s really cool is it’s just like with your family,” Coombs said. “Larry has got an extensive reach all the way through the NFL. When I was with the Titans last year, I was coaching guys that Larry coached at different times in his career. It’s really kind of cool.
“So for me now, the ability to communicate with Denzel, Bradley, Eli, Marshon and Gareon and those guys that are playing in the league, those are like my sons. They’re an extension of us, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
Now Okudah, Arnette and Fuller have joined the ranks.
“I’m proud of ‘em, I’m excited for ‘em,” Coombs said. “And to be honest with you, I’m excited for the next group. I’m excited that you just get to keep doing it.
“I think that’s probably part of the beauty of it, you get to keep doing it over and over again. … You get to watch them go out there and make their statement in the league, and you’ve just got more guys coming.”
Johnson agreed, because while they can all boast about the players who have come and gone, the coaches can’t afford to stand around bemoaning what could have been had those early-leavers stayed.
“As I stand here today, there are going to be other guys step up and take the same road again that’s going to move this thing to the next level,” Johnson said. “So I’m not as much worried about that or cry about it. What are you going to do? They’ve earned the right to be where they’re at to have the chance to play in the NFL.
“It’s just that now you hope you recruited well where you have the next guy ready to go. So we have the mentality: ‘Next man up.’ That’s what we try to preach and teach.”