Five Questions as Buckeyes secondary looks for major bounce-back

Austin Ward2 months
Aritcle written by:Austin WardAustin Ward


Sevyn Banks 2 by Birm-Lettermen Row
Ohio State cornerback Sevyn Banks needs to be a leader for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The summer offseason is in full swing, and Lettermen Row is trying to survive it with our annual Position Week breakdowns. By the time all nine units at Ohio State have been covered, training camp and media days will nearly have arrived — and the return of football in the Horseshoe will be just around the corner. Let’s kick off one of the final position weeks by diving into the reload of the secondary.

COLUMBUS — The bottom line isn’t up for debate at Ohio State.

There are absolutely important explanations to keep in mind, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Buckeyes simply weren’t good enough in the secondary last season.

Depth issues, lack of practice time, injuries and COVID all ravaged a unit that prides itself as being the Best In America, leaving it dramatically short of that goal a year ago as Kerry Coombs returned to the program as the defensive coordinator. It was likely an aberration, and the talent is on hand to get it corrected in a hurry — but the pressure is still on Ohio State to prove it now.

“I feel very responsible that we didn’t play our best in that environment,” Coombs said during spring camp. “When I say we didn’t play our best: That’s on me. That’s my job. It was very painful, it was awful. That hadn’t happened to us very much here. It just doesn’t. You try and work so hard, you pour everything you have into it, the kids poured everything they had into getting to that point, you want to be at your best. Obviously we weren’t.

“That was very hard. Anybody who says it wasn’t hard doesn’t care. It makes you rethink how you do things, and there’s no question that this entire offseason has been a great process of exactly that. Rethinking how we do things and how we’re going to do things in the future.”

Sweeping changes might not be necessary considering most of the factors that ramped up the degree of difficulty for the Buckeyes no longer exist. The spotlight is still on the Ohio State defensive backs to bounce back in a major way, though, and Lettermen Row is kicking off the latest position week with Five Questions for BIA.

Cameron Brown-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Cameron Brown will be a healthy cornerback at Ohio State again this season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

How can healthy Cameron Brown boost Buckeyes?

The season-ending Achilles injury in Week Two perhaps didn’t get as much attention as it deserved at the time, because the loss of Cameron Brown proved to be a devastating blow to the Buckeyes. The spotlight may have focused on Shaun Wade and Sevyn Banks as the primary cornerbacks, but Coombs prefers to designate three starters — and Brown was really the most experienced option on the roster in a true outside role. Plus, he’s also one of the fastest players on the roster and appeared ready to prove that he was in line to roll off the Ohio State-to-NFL assembly line. Brown was still limited in spring camp, but he looked fantastic during workouts last month and should be ready to pick up where he left off. If Brown is fully healthy, he can elevate the entire unit.

Is Sevyn Banks ready to back up first-round buzz?

The Buckeyes were always facing a tall order as they tried to replace two first-round cornerbacks simultaneously, and it didn’t get any easier for Banks to meet that standard when he picked up a nagging lower-body injury. The situation was bad enough that the veteran defensive back had to be held out of action during spring camp, offering a fresh reminder of what all the Buckeyes were dealing with at the end of last season. Banks was still doing some fine work, most notably in the blowout win in the Sugar Bowl — and he was probably the most reliable option Ohio State had even at less than full speed. With time to recover, there is growing conversation about Banks propelling himself into the first round of next year’s NFL Draft. It’s up to him to go back that up and lead the Buckeyes in the secondary.

Can Josh Proctor make leap into safety stardom for Ohio State?

Clearly the emergence didn’t happen as quickly as Ohio State or Josh Proctor envisioned when the four-star safety was plucked out of Oklahoma on the recruiting trail. But the senior wouldn’t be the first and surely won’t be the last potential superstar who needed time to mature both physically and mentally before finally tapping into his true upside. There have been plenty of flashes with Proctor, from his bone-rattling hits in support against the rush to the game-changing interception in the Big Ten title win last season. All the pieces are there for Proctor, and by his own admission he’s seeing the game at a different pace now. The Buckeyes rely heavily on the deep safety, and that makes Proctor one of the most impactful players on the roster as the program chases a national title.

Ryan Watts-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State cornerback Ryan Watts is turning heads. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Who will emerge as third cornerback for Ohio State?

The Buckeyes continue to recruit defensive backs at the highest level in the country, so the pipeline is well stocked with candidates to take that coveted third-starter spot at cornerback. Ohio State has a veteran presence in Marcus Williamson returning, a healthy Lejond Cavazos on the rise and a handful of touted freshmen with Denzel Burke, Jordan Hancock and Jakailin Johnson on campus now. But based on a productive camp that was capped with a spring-game interception and his unique skill set, Ryan Watts might be the guy to watch for the Buckeyes heading into August. The competition will be heated, but there is a lot for Coombs to like about the 6-foot-3, long-armed cornerback — especially now that he’s got a normal year of development under his belt.

How high is ceiling for Lathan Ransom?

The Buckeyes essentially had no choice but to find out if Lathan Ransom was ready to be thrown in the fire, but his dynamic athleticism would have surely tempted them anyway. Ransom was never going to have a spring camp as a freshman since he didn’t enroll early, and the lack of a normal training camp or regular practice reps made it even more challenging for him to have the kind of debut season he expected. But it didn’t stop him from making an impact late in the season, which has only ramped up the excitement on the coaching staff for what Ransom can provide in the cover-safety role that appears tailor-made for him. If Ransom could leave a mark for the Buckeyes with virtually no normal preparation, it’s tantalizing for the Buckeyes to think about what he could become in a traditional setting.