After losing three starters from last season, one would think the secondary would be in rebuilding mode at camp. Like the rest of the defense, that has not been the case at all. The starters (with one small exception) have been set from day one.
Continuity in the secondary is important, and the Buckeyes have had plenty of it so far. Outside of the offensive line, communication and coordination is more important in the secondary than anywhere else on the football field, and having the same players together helps out tremendously.
I have been very impressed by the secondary during practice. Despite three new starters, they all play (and most importantly communicate) like seasoned veterans.
Bold prediction time: despite the attrition, the 2011 defensive backs will be better than a year ago.
Here is a player by player breakdown of the two-deep.
#7 RS Junior, CB
6’1″ 190 lbs.
As the season progressed last year, Travis Howard saw more and more time on the field. He earned that time as he pushed for a starting spot, and he demonstrated his considerable skill by hauling in several electrifying interceptions (including the one in that clip).
He showed enough in 2010 for fans to dub him the next great corner at Ohio State.
Needless to say, the expectations for him are high.
With such a storied history at the position, that is lofty billing indeed, but Howard has lived up to the label so far as he continues to impress during camp. He absolutely locked down a starting spot from day one and the coaches clearly think he is ready for prime time.
If things go well, I wouldn’t be surprised to discuss Howard’s early entry into the draft at the end of the season and his projection as a first rounder.
Optimistic, I know, but he really can be that good.
#25 RS Freshman, CB
5’11″ 185 lbs.
Bradley Roby’s ability to lock down the starting spot opposite Howard has been one of the more interesting stories during camp. Roby battled Dominic Clarke early, splitting time with him 50/50 on the starting unit.
By the jersey scrimmage this past Saturday, Roby was spending nearly 100% of the time with the first team.
When you consider that Roby is only a RS freshman, this feat is even more impressive. Dominic Clarke is no slouch either, as he proved in emergency duty during the Sugar Bowl against one of the best passing attacks in college football.
Roby’s future is extremely bright, and if he continues to progress, we might be looking at the next next great corner for the Buckeyes already in line.
#19 RS Junior, SS/FS
6’2″ 205 lbs.
The only returning starter from last season, Orhian Johnson has been a leader in the secondary since the first day of practice. Unsurprisingly, he has also spent almost every snap on the field with the first team as well.
A rangy defender that can lay the wood if provoked, Johnson has a nice combination of athleticism and physicality to defend the run.
He is often the most vocal player in the secondary during practice, calling out coverages and asking people what they see. His leadership and experience will be a great foundation for the rest of the new starters to build off of.
#4 RS Sophomore, FS/SS
6’0″ 190 lbs.
Barnett actually won the starting position over O.Johnson in camp last year before an injury ended his season. Now fully recovered, like Howard and Johnson he has been with the starting unit for practically every snap in every practice.
His biggest strength is his quickness, but lest you forget, he can and will hit you as well.
The duo of Johnson and Barnett can cover a lot of ground in the secondary and pop people when they get where they are going.
I’m going to make another bold statement and say they will be the best pair of safeties at Ohio State since Doss and Nickey in 2002.
#5 RS Sophomore, CB
5’10″ 191 lbs.
The fact that Roby won the battle for the starting spot is no knock on Dominic Clarke, who is a very good corner in his own right and fully capable of starting as well. During the Sugar Bowl, Clarke stepped up when called upon and performed remarkably well on the biggest stage in an extremely tough situation.
I said it yesterday for the linebackers, but only at a place like Ohio State does a player this good provide depth.
He very well could play a similar role in 2011 as Travis Howard did in 2010 as the extremely talented third cornerback. Either way, look out for Clarke in the future… which could be very soon for him.
#12 Freshman, CB
5’11″ 180 lbs.
One of the top defensive backs on Ohio’s high school gridiron last year, Doran Grant didn’t take long to move up the depth chart and back up his recruiting hype. He has solidified himself in the two-deep over more experienced players like Dionte Allen, and it looks like he will be a key part of the secondary for years to come.
Since it is very unlikely he will redshirt at this point, with his speed and coverage skills, Grant will be a player to watch on special teams as well.
Grant’s move up the depth chart alone tells you a lot about what he brings to the field, and he will only get better as he gains experience. It will be fun to see him play this year, but it will be more fun watching him develop into yet another great corner for the Buckeyes.
#3 RS Sophomore, FS
6’1″ 189 lbs.
Corey Brown was a very highly touted recruit out of high school, but his Buckeye career has been relatively quiet up to this point (part of the reason being due to injury). It looked like he might have another quiet year at the start of camp, but he quickly moved up the depth chart and is now the primary backup behind Barnett.
As mentioned, he has a lot of hype behind him, and if he can perform on the field it will be exciting to watch.
#2 Sophomore, SS
5’9″ 190 lbs.
I already discussed Bryant in our preview of the linebackers, so I will be brief. He spends time as the strong safety with the second team in addition to star (which is why he was with the LBs).
I said it before, but holding down two positions on the depth chart tells us all we need to know about Bryant. He is good and the coaches want to get him on the field any way possible.
Out of all of the two deeps on the team, the secondary is the easiest to track. Other than several players moving up the depth chart (Doran Grant and Corey Brown), the first eight have stayed relatively the same in every practice.
Zach Domicone (FS) and Dionte Allen (CB) have also spent time with the second team early in camp, but they were both with the third team during the jersey scrimmage. There are also plenty of young players working with the third team, but with little to no movement at the top, that is where they will likely stay in 2011.
The two-deep here is young and extremely talented. Combined with the defensive line, opposing passing attacks will be in big time trouble when they play the Buckeyes.