COLUMBUS — Kerry Coombs has a lot of work to do in his first season back at Ohio State.
Sure, the secondary is loaded with potential stars, but potential only goes so far. Coombs has a job to help the Buckeyes replace Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller.
Okudah and Arnette were first-round picks, while Fuller was a captain for the Buckeyes. Replacing them won’t be easy, but Coombs has a proven talented leader in Shaun Wade and plenty of young talent to work with.
“I think there’s a lot of them that are going to have bigger roles, right?” Coombs said. “You lost three starters, so we would have every expectation that every one of those kids that was competing at the frontend of spring. Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown and Marcus Hooker, Josh Proctor, Marcus Williamson and Tyreke Johnson, they’re all going to have bigger roles.”
But all of them can’t play at once — or at all. As Defensive Backs Week at Lettermen Row begins to wrap up, we’re breaking down who is a lock for time in the secondary, who may be in the mix to contribute and who can expect to either redshirt or be found on the bench.
Sure Ohio State starters
CB Shaun Wade: The lone returning starter in the secondary, Wade will have no choice but to be the leader of the Ohio State defensive backfield. He has shown up on every major all-American and award watch list this preseason, a sign that he’s one of the best defensive backs in the country. He came back to Ohio State to prove he is more than just a slot cornerback and his skills translate well to the outside at the next level. He was able to watch, learn and play alongside Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah last season. Now reunited with Kerry Coombs, Wade will be the catalyst of the Ohio State defensive success.
S Josh Proctor: There hasn’t been a better opportunity for Josh Proctor. His moment has arrived, and he’ll be tasked with taking over for the reliable Jordan Fuller, who graduated and moved onto the NFL. Proctor has all the physical tools to be a superstar, showing off his athleticism and range early last season. Minor injuries and a logjam in front of him in the secondary are gone now, and nothing is in his way. Can he finally become a breakout superstar at safety for the Buckeyes? It’s now or never.
In the mix
CB Cameron Brown: Whenever Okudah and Arnette needed a break last year, Brown was the first defensive back off the bench, and he was able to add experience in some of the biggest games of the year to his resume. With both starters gone, Brown could step into a starting role or rotation with Banks and Wade. If Coombs wants to bring back the three-man rotation at cornerback, the Buckeyes might be better off for it, and all three could be legitimate NFL draft prospects.
CB Sevyn Banks: Another cornerback who saw time as a backup last season, Banks made his first career start against Rutgers in November. He has shown good ball skills and can run with some of the bigger receivers in the Big Ten. Banks made sure to beef up his physical ability with a huge winter in the weight room. He and Brown might battle for the other cornerback spot, or maybe the rotation will prove to help Banks.
S Marcus Hooker: A starter on special teams in all 14 games, Hooker made a massive leap from his redshirt season to last year. He played in seven games on defense, including the rivalry win over Michigan and Big Ten title game win over Wisconsin. The younger brother of NFL star Malik Hooker, Marcus has a chance to build on the legacy of his name at Ohio State. Could his redshirt sophomore season be the time to do it?
CB Tyreke Johnson: A five-star player and one of the top 30 players in the class of 2018, Tyreke Johnson just hasn’t had the success to live up to that five-star billing so far at Ohio State. Under defensive backs coaches Taver Johnson and Jeff Hafley over the last two seasons, Johnson has underperformed. But now, he’ll be playing under Coombs, who recruited him to Ohio State out of Florida. Can Coombs finally get the production out of Johnson?
DB Marcus Williamson: A member of the 2017 recruiting class that featured Jeff Okudah, Williamson has been a major special teams contributor in his career, particularly last year, when he appeared in all 14 games and had seven total tackles. Ohio State might need him for more than special teams now, though. With three members of the secondary to replace, Williamson is in the mix to take over the slot cornerback job. Can he do it?
Work to do
S Bryson Shaw: Shaw played three games for the Buckeyes last season and redshirted. He had tackles against Maryland and Rutgers.
S Ronnie Hickman: The four-star safety from New Jersey redshirted last season in his first year at Ohio State after suffering an injury during his senior season of high school. He’s a dynamic athlete, but his development was slowed down last year from the injury.
CB Ryan Watts/Lejond Cavazos: Watts and Cavazos were early-enrollee cornerbacks, and the cancelation of spring practice was unfortunate for them. Both went through winter workouts with the Buckeyes and could have used the additional 12 spring practice sessions to build. Maybe they can make some ground up in fall camp, but it’ll take a lot for them to contribute meaningful reps for the Buckeyes on the field.
Kourt Williams: Already dubbed a potential future captain for the Buckeyes by some inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Williams was another early-enrollee who missed a chance to move up the depth chart during spring practice. Can he make up that ground early in his career to crack the lineup?
Cameron Martinez: A dynamic and versatile athlete, Martinez could play offense or defense for the Buckeyes. He’ll start on the defensive side of the ball. The summer enrollee will have a short time this fall camp to earn a spot on the field as a true freshman.