How second-year cornerbacks can impact secondary, break out for Buckeyes

Spencer Holbrook2 months
Ohio State v Rutgers 11-7-20 - Courtesy Ohio State Athletics-396
Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos are making a push in the Ohio State secondary. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

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 continue Defensive Backs Week by dissecting how the pair of second-year cornerbacks can have an impact on the Buckeyes title chances.

COLUMBUS — Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos are playing catch-up at Ohio State.

Both expected to learn and grow as cornerbacks in their freshman season. But without spring practice, a normal summer and a full season of reps and games, the second-year players both lost out on pivotal development under defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs.

While they were trying to develop in the middle of a pandemic, the Ohio State secondary finished with the No. 122 pass defense in the country and struggled to stop big plays. That’s why this spring — finally the first sense of normalcy in the program for Watts and Cavazos — was so big for both of them.

They’re fully in the program now, just as the secondary is reshaping back into an elite form. Both sophomore corners could be a key in that new secondary as they enter Year Two.

“Just to highlight those two guys, you could put the whole team in there,” secondary coach Matt Barnes said. “There’s a handful of guys that are, really, veteran guys, that maybe didn’t need quite as much development. It’s a young roster, it’s a young team, and in our room … there’s a bunch of guys that missed out on the opportunity to develop last spring and in through the summer because it was so unorthodox with COVID. I keep coming back to concepts. It’s techniques, it’s effort, it’s playing the game. … You can teach scheme. How do you teach a guy to get off a block? You put him in a situation where he’s got to get off a block. There’s no substitute for putting your hands on somebody and getting off a block.

“It’s not just those two guys, it’s the whole roster that really missed a lot of that development, so we’re really concentrated and focused on developing those guys.”

Lejond Cavazos-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Lejond Cavazos can begin to make an impact in the Ohio State secondary this season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State needs both Watts and Cavazos in the secondary this fall. Watts has a chance to enter a rotation with veterans Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks. He has shown he can use his length, size and athleticism to make an impact early in his career. Cavazos, meanwhile, has battled through some injury trouble so far. But when healthy, he will provide Coombs, Barnes and the Buckeyes with much-needed depth that was missing during the COVID year last fall.

They both proved they can be used with their spring performances.

“It was a great experience for those kids this spring,” 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.”

Can either solidify themselves as a real option to start this fall? Watts appears to be in that position, especially after a huge spring in which he took over 500 reps and tallied an interception in the Spring Game. He’ll certainly be a factor for the Buckeyes. And Cavazos is still developing into what Ohio State envisions for his career.

Ryan Watts-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ryan Watts picked off a pass in the Ohio State Spring Game. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Whether they can crack the lineup this season or not, they both give Ohio State something it didn’t have last season: Depth and the ability to play more than just two cornerbacks.

“The depth in the back end 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.”

Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos will both be fresh and ready for game action in September after a year of playing catch-up.

And they have a chance to play a huge factor in the success of the Ohio State secondary moving forward.