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What We Learned from Kerry Coombs, Buckeyes cornerbacks

Sevyn Banks-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes
Ohio State cornerback Sevyn Banks is in a competition for a starting role. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

Ohio State Football

What We Learned from Kerry Coombs, Buckeyes cornerbacks

COLUMBUS — Kerry Coombs and the Ohio State secondary came up with the tagline.

But the players he has coached are tasked every day with living up to it, and it’s pretty clear that they have.

Ohio State sends defensive backs to the NFL every year, and the program certainly has the credentials to declare itself “BIA.” It doesn’t need DBU. It made its own tagline.

And the Buckeyes live up to it on the field.

“The whole mantra of BIA came from being at the best place in America,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “If we’re at the best place in America, we certainly should be the best in America at what we do. When I recruit kids, I tell them I really only want to be around people who want to be the best in the world at what we do. It doesn’t matter if that’s the girl that comes in and sprays all the stuff down and is trying to make sure it’s healthy for when I return the next day or the kid who’s dragging the bags out for my drills every day. I just want to be around people who want to be the best in the world at what we do.

“That’s a challenge, because that means there’s a standard to live up to every day. That’s not something you just say and somebody slaps it on a shirt or a hashtag and you become that. We try to hold ourselves to be accountable to that every day. The kids have a vision of that. They understand what’s required.”

What’s required this year is replacing two first-round picks at cornerback and a leader of the defense at safety. It’s a tall task. But Coombs has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to turnover in the secondary. He knows how to get corners and safeties ready to play at a high level.

The Buckeyes are already on the practice field doing just that. Coombs, Sevyn Banks and Marcus Williamson took some time to meet with the media Tuesday evening, and Lettermen Row is hashing out What We Learned from the press session with the Ohio State secondary.

Shaun Wade return huge for Buckeyes

No matter what the situation, the Ohio State secondary was going to be ready for the start of the season.

Whether Shaun Wade came back or not, the Buckeyes would have had a high floor for success in the back end of the defense. There’s enough talent and depth to make up for what Wade brings to the field.

But when Wade announced his decision to return to Ohio State, the floor didn’t change. The ceiling did. Wade takes the Buckeyes secondary to levels it can’t achieve without him. The unit is better with Wade on the field, and that’s where he’ll be this fall.

For the Buckeyes, bringing Wade back is huge. But it doesn’t change the way those around him will coach and play.

“My thought process on that never really changed,” cornerback Sevyn Banks said. “I always came in to ball, and that’s never going to change, whoever is here, no matter what is going on.”

Banks, Cameron Brown and Wade will be the top three cornerbacks for a roster that lost two first round picks at that spot a year ago. There’s plenty to work on to get in that position again. But Wade is back in the mix now leading the secondary.

Cam Brown-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Cameron Brown is in a competition for a starting spot at cornerback for Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Cornerback competition heating up for Ohio State

Wade will certainly handle one side of the field for the Buckeyes secondary, as he shapes up to be a lockdown cornerback and one of the best in the country. So the competition for the spot opposite from Wade is the biggest question mark still remaining. Cameron Brown, a former wide receiver who converted to defense, and Sevyn Banks, a confident and vibrant Florida product, are both battling to become the next starting cornerback. It’s a healthy competition.

“We take it day-by-day,” Banks said. “We’re at Ohio State. We have to compete every day, so we are just going to compete. I don’t know what to say about that. We’re going to compete.”

Coombs has orchestrated a three-man rotation at cornerback in the past for the Buckeyes, and that could still be on the table with Wade, Banks and Brown. But for now, Banks and Brown are going head-to-head for a starting spot in training camp.

Young Buckeyes have to contribute

Ohio State is recruiting at an all-time clip right now, and the last few classes have been loaded with incredible talent. So it’s not a surprise that young players are ready to contribute this season, especially given the circumstances around the pandemic. Depth may be more important than ever.

“I think we have a great group of freshmen,” Coombs said. “They’re talented. They don’t know what they don’t know yet, so we’re working on that. They’re learning about the toughness about Ohio State and the culture. I think those kids are going to contribute. This season more than any other, you’re going to have to depend on inexperienced players to step in and fill roles. So we’re working really hard on coaching our depth.”

That depth is evident at the nickel cornerback spot, where Marcus Williamson figures to be the starter. Behind him, though, are two young players who have never played for the Buckeyes.

“We’ve worked a couple of the young guys there,” Williamson said. “Ronnie Hickman, I think he’s been working some there. And you got Cam Martinez.”

Hickman was hurt for the entire year last season; Martinez just arrived in June. Both may have to contribute for Ohio State this fall.

Marcus Williamson-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Marcus Williamson is the leader to start at slot cornerback. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Kerry Coombs learns communication through Zoom

Kerry Coombs brings the energy to the Ohio State meeting rooms. So how does he do that during a pandemic when the staff and players can’t meet in person?

He learned to adapt. And it actually led to better relationships with his secondary, even with the Buckeyes he already knew from his previous time at Ohio State.

“I prefer to be a hands-on coach, I learned to be a Zoom coach,” Coombs said. “I think the neat part about that is I probably have more communication with those kids than I would have in a normal recruiting cycle when I would have been on the road. I was new, and it gave us an opportunity to spend some time in some areas other than football. We were getting to have conversations. There’s a whole lot of those guys that were here the first time around, kids that I recruited. I have a relationship with them.”

Now that they are back in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and preparing for a season, the Buckeyes are back to face-to-face work. But the virtual meetings, film rooms and activity over the summer helped the unit grow.

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Spencer Holbrook

Spencer Holbrook covers Ohio State football and basketball for Lettermen Row. A graduate of Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism, he's in his second year covering the Buckeyes. He was previously the sports editor at Ohio's student newspaper, The Post, where he covered Ohio University football and men's basketball.