Andy Gottesman / The Lantern
The defensive backfield combines both the cornerbacks and safeties, and although both positions work as one unit, in 2010 they face drastically different outlooks heading into the season.
While the safeties welcome new starters, the cornerbacks return two veterans who will be more experienced after having productive years in 2009.
The safety position will have to replace arguably the biggest loss for the Buckeyes last season, captain Kurt Coleman. The veteran was considered by most to be the leader of a team that won its fifth Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl.
In addition to Coleman, OSU also said goodbye to longtime starter Anderson Russell. Although he wasn’t as heralded as Coleman, Russell showcased his talent for several seasons.
Replacing the safeties has been a hot topic on a defense that doesn’t have many weaknesses.
“When you lose your quarterbacks on defense, those safeties, that will be a challenge for us,” coach Jim Tressel said. “You have Jermale [Hines] and Tyler Moeller who will get a lot of work this spring, but he won’t get the flat-out live stuff, and Orhian Johnson and Nate Oliver and Aaron Gant and all those guys. They need to step up, Zach Domicone and Jamie Wood and C.J. Barnett. There’s a group of them.”
Trying to replace starters with the experience and knowledge of Coleman and Russell won’t come easily, but safety coach Paul Haynes said although it might take time for the new starters to adjust, it shouldn’t take them as long to replicate the productivity.
“I can throw anybody out there just to play the deep third, but you’ve got to make plays,” Haynes said. “So that’s what you look for. I don’t want to come out of the game just doing right. I want to come out of the game being productive, and that means doing something maybe out of the realm, but that’s kind of what you look for instead of just a guy.”
OSU will turn to Hines and Johnson to fill the voids. Hines isn’t a stranger to playing time as he has seen extended reps at OSU’s “star” position during certain defensive formations.
Johnson will have a chance to prove he is ready for a full-time role in 2010. He played sparingly last season when starters would come out for rest, but Haynes believes he has all the intangibles to be a big-time safety.
“When you look at him, he has everything you want in a safety. He’s long and he’s got good range,” Haynes said. “I think with him, it’s just inexperience, and now that he’s getting the reps and he has to make all the calls and do all those things, he’s coming along and getting more confidence. His big thing is getting the confidence back there to be the quarterback.”
Moeller, Oliver, Domicone, Wood and Barnett will all add depth behind Hines and Johnson.
At cornerback, there is much less uncertainty. OSU returns both starters from last season, senior Chimdi Chekwa and junior Devon Torrence.
Chekwa has been a staple in the Buckeye secondary for three years and gave OSU another veteran presence when he decided to return for his senior season.
Torrence, however, is starting for his second year and is trying to go from just playing on instincts to being an expert at his position.
“Last year at this time, I was out there just playing, really didn’t maybe understand everything that was going on,” Torrence said. “This year, I’m trying to concentrate on the little things and understand the total defensive package and maybe be a little more football savvy.”
Torrence said he gained a sense of confidence in his abilities after his first year of experience.
Cornerback coach Taver Johnson expects to see more of the same from him this season as he continues to get comfortable at cornerback.
“Devon has played a lot of football for us, which is great,” Johnson said. “There is still a lot to be played with him because he’s not a natural corner yet. He’s a natural athlete, and I think he has really taken a hold of that, which has been nice.”
Behind the starters, the Buckeyes have plenty of young corners who are doing everything they can to assert themselves for next season. Junior Donnie Evege and sophomore Travis Howard, along with redshirt freshmen Corey Brown and Dominic Clarke, all have impressed Johnson.
“It is like a swimming pool right now for them. They’re swimming all over the place. We are throwing a lot at them,” Johnson said of his young cornerbacks. “We are expecting a lot and demanding a lot, and they have done a good job for the most part just trying to take it in and go with it.”
“It is a good precursor for them for the fall. If they can handle it now, all the pressure, they can really take to it in the offseason, and that’s going to be key,” he said.