Ohio State’s secondary is seeming like a second thought to those who have declared for the draft as the season’s postponement continues.
With junior cornerback Shaun Wade deciding to opt out of the potential football season, Ohio State’s defensive backfield may be missing out on a first-round prospect in the 2021 NFL draft. The Buckeyes will have to rely on its youth and first-year defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs to keep their stout pass defense intact.
“We got some guys back there that we have to replace — Damon (Arnette), Jeff (Okudah), Jordan (Fuller) — who were all playing really well yesterday and had great camps and did a great job for us last year — and now Shaun,” head coach Ryan Day said in an appearance on 97.1 The Fan’s “Buckeye Roundtable” Monday. “So it’s gonna be a brand new secondary back there.”
Wade announced his decision to opt out Monday on Twitter. The redshirt junior cornerback elected to return for a fourth season instead of following fellow cornerbacks Okudah and Arnette into the NFL this past spring.
In a Monday interview with Dom Tiberi on 10TV, Wade said that the decision is not necessarily final, as he has not signed with an agent.
With a decision looming from the Big Ten to play football in the fall, Wade said that the return of fall football in the Big Ten would not guarantee his return to the team. He said that he will need to see the protocols and testing procedures along with the Buckeyes’ ability to compete for a national championship.
“At the end of the day, if they do come out with good protocols and they want to play a season, I’ll probably decide to come back, but it matters about the protocols — that’s probably the biggest thing for me,” Wade said.
The Buckeyes had the No. 2 pass defense in the country in 2019, allowing only 148.1 passing yards per game and seven passing touchdowns on the season.
The 2019 starting secondary, composed of former Buckeyes Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, Jordan Fuller and the recently opted-out Wade, will not return to defend its aerial dominance.
The Ohio State defense will also be without co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who was hired as the head coach at Boston College in December.
Coombs, who served as Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach from 2012-17, will take the reins of the defense and inexperienced secondary. Day said that Coombs’ college and NFL experience will greatly benefit the young defensive backfield.
“It’s not the first time Kerry (Coombs) has been through this. He’s got great experience at all levels,” Day said. “Kerry is such a veteran guy, he’s really doing a wonderful job.”
Back in an April 22 conference call, Coombs noted that the returning defensive backs would see expanded roles in the defense.
Calling out defensive backs Sevyn Banks, Cam Brown, Marcus Hooker, Josh Proctor, Marcus Williamson and Tyreke Johnson, Coombs said that the unproven players were competing at the beginning of spring practice and he has “every expectation of getting a lot of guys on the field.”
“I think it’s a talented group of players, just inexperienced, and so I would expect that a lot of those guys are going to play and compete in the fall and get ready to go and play a lot of them during the game,” Coombs said.
Among the more seasoned players in the new-look defensive backfield is the junior cornerback Banks, who played in all 14 games for the Buckeyes in the 2019 season.
Coombs said that when he originally recruited Banks, he fit the mold of what the Buckeyes typically look for in their cornerbacks. With the past two seasons — which Coombs spent as the secondary coach for the Tennessee Titans — to strengthen up and gain experience, Coombs said he’s excited about Banks’ future with the team.
“It’s weird when you get away from a guy for two years and you come back and they’re bigger, stronger and faster,” Coombs said. “I’m really excited for him. He’s taken great pride in what he’s doing right now, and I think he’s working really hard so I’m looking forward to having a chance to get back with him.”
If Wade decides to remain in the draft, junior cornerback Brown and senior cornerback Williamson are each expected to get a bump in playing time. Both defensive backs received playing time in all 14 games last season.
Junior safety Proctor is expected to take over for Fuller, who he backed up the previous two seasons. Proctor played in 11 games last year, finishing with 13 tackles and an interception.
Despite Wade’s decision, the Buckeyes will have plenty of gaps to fill in their defensive backfield. Although the unit may be inexperienced, Day has confidence in Coombs’ ability to get the most of his players.
“Obviously his energy is off the charts but it’s also his expertise on how to train secondary players,” Day said. “But then also bring them along maturity-wise so that they can step into a situation and perform.”