Ohio State Buckeyes: Veterans in line to fill secondary holes

Eight months after returning to Ohio State, Kerry Coombs faces the same task he did when he was hired away from the Tennessee Titans in late January.

The veteran coach must rebuild a secondary that lost four of its five top players to the NFL.

In a normal year, that still being an unfinished task in late September might signal something has gone wrong, but 2020 is no normal year.

Coombs is still more than four weeks from the season-opening game against Nebraska, so he still has time to see how things shake out.

“I prefer to be a hands on coach. I learned to be a Zoom coach,” he said, referring to a method of video conferencing that has become ubiquitous since COVID-19 arrived in March and caused many professional interactions to move online. "I think the neat part about that was that I probably have more communication with those kids and I would have in a normal recruiting cycle when I would have been on the road so that was new and gave us a good opportunity to spend some time in some areas other than football where we were getting to have conversation.

“The other thing is there’s a whole lot of those guys that were here the first time around and kids that I recruited so I have a relationship with them, but at the same time there’s no question that the absence of available practice time was disappointing, but there’s nothing we can do about it and so we can sit around and cry about or we can just put our heads down and do with what we have and I think we’ve maximized every bit of time that we were allowed to.”

Although a large group of freshmen who enrolled early were expected to vie for playing time, Coombs said they are not in the mix yet.

“I think the core group of players that everybody has talked about are the guys that are gonna go,” Coombs said. “I think we have a great group of young freshmen and they’re talented, but they don’t know what they don’t know yet, so we’re working on that. But they’re learning about the toughness of Ohio State and the culture, and I think those kids are all going to contribute I think that the this season, more than any other you’re going to have to depend on young players and inexperienced players to step in and fill roles. And so we’re working really hard on coaching our depth as well.”

Senior Shaun Wade, who started at slot cornerback last season, is expected to move outside this season while newcomers fill the other spots.

“I think more than anything I’m looking for a gritty competitor, a kid that refuses to lose,” Coombs said. “That plays with a fearless mentality of my man catches no balls and that’s really the mindset that we have to have play in and play out.”

Marcus Williamson, a senior who has been hindered by injuries much of his time at Ohio State, said he has been at the slot corner spot this fall with redshirt freshman Ronnie Hickman and true freshman Cam Martinez joining him.

“I’ve spent most of my time inside at the slot corner, but we’ve all been pretty interchangeable as a unit,” Williamson said. “We’ve had a lot of guys bouncing around and I think one thing (Coombs) really appreciates is versatility. That’s what we kind of stand for as a unit.”

On the outside, juniors Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown are first in line to claim the cornerback spot opposite Wade with talented Tyreke Johnson also in the mix.

“Tyreke’s my boy,” said Banks, who along with Brown backed up starters Damon Arnette and Jeffrey Okudah last season. "We clinched as soon as we got in here. He’s a smart and intelligent player, so he’s gonna get it.

"I feel good. I’m taking it day by day right now and just can’t wait to get on the field, can’t wait to show it.

“Being the backup for Jeff and Damon, (I learned) a lot actually because they’re very smart. They’re two different people, so I came from both sides and now I just (need to) put it on my talent.”

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