The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the next wave in the secondary? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
Which 1 unit or specific position needs to make the biggest jump going to next year?
— Benny (@BennyTheJet2017) December 30, 2019
The first major puzzle piece snapped into place on Saturday in Florida. And after announcing his decision to put off the NFL Draft for one more year, Shaun Wade flew back to Columbus to get back to work and ensure that the secondary at Ohio State won’t have to replace all four starters.
Wade gives the Buckeyes potentially one of the best lockdown cornerbacks in the country. He provides leadership and will set the tone for the young guys cracking the rotation for the first time. And his versatility will continue to be invaluable for the Silver Bullets as the coaching staff builds a defense around his talents.
But the work is still only just beginning for the Buckeyes as they reload the secondary and try to maintain the high standard of the B.I.A. unit. For starters, there still isn’t a new position coach and co-defensive coordinator back in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and it’s not a coincidence that the spot hasn’t been filled while the Tennessee Titans remain alive in the NFL Playoffs. The reunion with Kerry Coombs is practically inevitable at this point, and completing the staff is obviously going to be a key factor in the process of getting Ohio State ready to replace Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller.
The attention will immediately shift to the development of Cam Brown, Sevyn Banks, Amir Riep and Tyreke Johnson at cornerback now that offseason workouts and spring ball loom as the next major items on the calendar for the current roster. At least two of those guys will need to prove capable of handling key roles for the Buckeyes, with Brown having already started showing signs he can manage it and Banks also beginning to make a push to be known for more than his touchdown against Michigan as a freshman.
From there, Josh Proctor will be counted on heavily to make the long-anticipated leap into becoming a game-changing safety. Injuries slowed down his rise a little bit last season and the sophomore went through some understandable inconsistency during his first real year of defensive action. But there is absolutely no question that his off-the-charts athleticism, hard-hitting mentality and nose for the football will be key for Ohio State now that Fuller is no longer around as the eraser in the secondary.
But beyond those guys, Ohio State will likely keep searching for one more piece to add into the mix. The Buckeyes hit a couple obvious home runs in the transfer portal last year, and if former UCLA defensive back Darnay Holmes had decided not to head to the NFL and pursued one more season in the college ranks, there’s no question he would have been a top priority. Ohio State was active in his original recruitment, and with a degree in hand and a chance to compete for a starting job right away, the fit seemed to be close to ideal for both parties.
Either way, the Buckeyes will be needing to add one more defensive back to the roster, either through the portal or by hitting the recruiting trail to fill the vacancy left by the loss of Phillips. An experienced veteran with immediate eligibility in the mold of Holmes would almost certainly be the preference — and just like the return of Wade, it would continue to ease some of the pressure on the secondary this offseason.
Considering who the Buckeyes are losing, though, there’s going to be stress no matter what. And while Shaun Wade returning was a huge step forward, that’s just the first one on a long journey.
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