Buckeyes young secondary gaining reps, bolstering depth

Spencer Holbrook5 months
Ryan Watts 3 by Birm-Lettermen Row
Ryan Watts got plenty of spring experience for Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — Ohio State would have preferred a healthy Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown for spring practice.

The Buckeyes certainly didn’t want their top two cornerbacks from a season ago on the shelf for the duration of the spring session. But as Brown continues to recover from a torn Achilles and Banks rehabs what Lettermen Row sources described as a knee issue, Kerry Coombs and the Buckeyes staff found opportunity in missing their two projected starters.

And the silver lining from the spring may turn out to be the strength of the fall. While Brown and Banks are out, young members of the secondary — Ryan Watts, Cameron Martinez, Lathan Ransom, Lejond Cavazos, Jantzen Dunn and Denzel Burke, among others — took meaningful reps for their development.

A lot of reps.

“It was a great experience for those kids this spring,” defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “A lot of young kids getting a lot of reps. You don’t want guys to get injured, but at the same time, it afforded the opportunity for us to coach some depth in the backend. It’s so much different from where we were a year ago, just in numbers and depth across the board in the back end.”

Ohio State certainly hopes the unit is different than it was a season ago when the pass defense finished No. 122 out of 127 FBS programs who played football in the fall. With the influx of young talent stirred in with veterans in the backend such as Marcus Williamson, Josh Proctor, Banks and Brown, the Buckeyes could go from one of the worst defensive secondaries in the country to one of the deepest — and best.

Confidence seems to be oozing out of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center following a valuable and important spring.

Kerry Coombs-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Kerry Coombs feels like the Ohio State secondary is taking necessary steps forward. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“I’m very encouraged with what we did this spring on defense in general,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I think we have some really good young talent back there. The forecast is that we’re going to get everybody back here. We did have some surgeries and some different things. So that was frustrating that these guys weren’t able to get as many reps in the spring as you would like. The good news is: The cavalry’s coming on this thing, and we’re going to have really great depth back there when you look at our numbers and where we’re projected to go into preseason camp, I am fired up about that. Summer is going to be really, really important. Preseason is going to be really important.

“I was encouraged by what I saw back there. I thought that some of the young guys really stepped up and used these 15 practices to get better. We’re going to be much deeper in the secondary than where we’ve been. We’re also going to be younger. So there’s a give and take there. I think the future is very bright.”

With a normal spring, no pauses due to positive tests and plenty of reps to go around, the Buckeyes returned to a sense of normalcy for 15 practices. They expect to have one of the best offenses in the country and an impressive defensive front. But questions still remain in the back seven, including a linebacker position that is dangerously thin at the moment.

But now that spring is over, those questions about the secondary and linebackers can begin to be answered by the coaching staff. And the questions from the beginning of spring already seemed to be answered. The backend of the defense is going to be just fine.

Cameron Martinez-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Cameron Martinez is one of a few young Buckeyes who earned reps this spring. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“They’ve got to play,” Coombs said. “I think we had 10 defensive backs that had over 450 reps in spring of team-type reps which is awesome. Those guys got to play coverage play in addition to all the individual work. Those are team reps. That’s not seven-on-seven, that’s not one-on-ones against the best wide receivers in the country. All of those things that you need to develop your skillset, they were able to get an awful lot of work.”

From the outside, the Buckeyes secondary woes seemed to continue piling up when Banks was ruled out for the spring. But inside the facility, injuries to the top two cornerbacks in the room became a chance to get better in a different way.

As Banks and Brown earned mental reps on the sideline, young players stepped in and earned the physical reps. When it all comes together in the fall, it could add up to a deep and talented secondary ready to rectify the numbers from a season ago.

“The depth in the backend is going to help us,” Coombs said. “Having kids who can run, having kids who can cover and having kids who can play so that a corner doesn’t take 78 snaps in a game, so that we can rotate guys and keep guys fresh and keep things moving along. Same thing at the safety spots. Being able to play fresh guys will pay us great dividends in the fall.”

What was a silver lining in the spring will pay massive dividends to Ohio State in the fall.

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