Ohio State Buckeyes: Revolving door continues in secondary

Credit: Barry Reeger

Credit: Barry Reeger

Defensive back has been an issue for Ohio State for three seasons, and it looks like it will be a question again in 2023.

Reports JK Johnson has entered the transfer portal only reinforced that likelihood this week.

A 6-foot, 185-pound redshirt freshman from St. Louis, Johnson was a four-star recruit and 50th-ranked player overall nationally in the 2021 class.

He earned a spot in the two-deep prior to the season and started five games as starters Cameron Brown and Denzel Burke both dealt with injuries at times during the year.

With Brown graduating, Johnson appeared to be in line to start next season but apparently chose to assess his options elsewhere after making 20 tackles and not being credited with a pass breakup in 2022.

After two straight dreadful seasons, Ohio State’s secondary showed some improvement early in 2022 before the unit dropped off drastically at the end of the season with an increase in level of competition.

For the year, the Buckeyes allowed 200.5 yards passing (down from 246 in 2021), and opponents posted a passing efficiency rating of 131, slightly worse than the 129.7 mark of the previous season.

Ohio State’s yards per pass attempt allowed also got worse, rising from 6.9 to 7.2, as big plays were a big problem in the first season under defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

Only seven teams allowed more than the seven pass plays of 50 yards or more, and only 11 allowed more than the Buckeyes’ 13 plays of 40 yards or more.

Johnson’s exit leaves six scholarship cornerbacks on the roster at this point: Burke, junior-to-be Jordan Hancock, sophomore Jyaire Brown, redshirt freshman Ryan Turner and incoming true freshmen Calvin Simpson-Hunt and Jermaine Matthews.

Losing a player also continues a recent trend: Ohio State signed 17 defensive backs from 2018-21, and 10 have transferred out.

Only five have became starters (so far), though two members of that group are also among the transfers.

Ohio State was in the conversation for “DB U” for many years, but lately production has fallen off.

After having at least one All-Big Ten defensive back every season from 2007-217, Ohio State has had a total of three in the past five years, and two of them (Jeffrey Okudah and Jordan Fuller) were in the same season (2019).

On the flip side, Ohio State added a player to the defensive back room Tuesday with the commitment of Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter.

A 6-2, 198-pound safety, Carter spent three seasons at Syracuse and played in 31 games.

He had 36 tackles and three interceptions last season, when he also broke up six passes.

“The last few weeks have been very difficult,” he wrote in an announcement on social media. “I am and will always be grateful to Syracuse University, to all the coaches, faculty members, fans and especially my teammates for making me a better man.

“With that being said, after careful consideration and long discussions with family, I will be continuing my academic and athletic career at The Ohio State University.”

With the 2020 season not counting toward anyone’s eligibility, Carter has three seasons to play for the Buckeyes, who are losing starting free safety Ronnie Hickman to the NFL Draft and nickel Tanner McCalister to graduation.

Carter was rated a three-star “athlete” prospect coming out of Henrico High School in Richmond, Va., in 2020.

Ohio State signed three safeties last month, including Malik Hartford of Lakota West, and is scheduled to return starter Lathan Ransom along with reserves Cam Martinez, Sonny Styles, Kye Stokes and Kourt Williams.

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