The Ohio State football program is back on the practice field as it prepares for the Oct. 24 start of Big Ten football. While still not allowed to practice in pads yet, the Buckeyes are settling into their normal practice schedule that would typically be held during a traditional fall camp.
Perhaps no position group in the program has more to prove this season than the Ohio State secondary, which will be replacing two first-round cornerbacks and a two-year captain at safety. Kerry Coombs, who returned to Columbus to take over as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator this past winter, met with the media on Tuesday evening to discuss where things stand with his secondary with just over a month remaining until kickoff.
Coombs, whose passion and energy have become a trademark of his coaching approach, first had to adapt the way he reached his players during the height of the pandemic, which forced Ohio State to shut down spring practice after just one session.
“I prefer to be a hands-on coach, and I’ve learned to be a Zoom coach,” Coombs said of the circumstances. “The neat part about that is I probably had more communication with those kids than I would have in a normal recruiting cycle when I would have been on the road.”
Coombs added, “There’s no question that the absence of available practice time was disappointing, but there’s nothing we could do about it. So, we could sit around and cry about it or we could just put our heads down and do what we have. I think we’ve maximized every bit of time that we were allowed to. I think (head coach) Ryan (Day) did a remarkable job putting a schedule together that, on a daily basis, gave us the opportunity to work with kids in discretionary formats, voluntary formats, Zoom formats … while nobody likes the situation, I’m comfortable that we’ve probably maximized that time as well as anybody.”
The return of cornerback Shaun Wade, who had opted out of the season just a day before the Big Ten announced its return to competition, gives Coombs a huge lift as he turns to a host of unproven players to step into big shoes this season. One of those players expected to be in the starting rotation is junior Sevyn Banks, who saw significant time last season behind Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette.
Coombs originally recruited Banks to Ohio State, as he did a large part of the secondary depth chart, and said Banks fits the mold of the type of cornerback the program has become accustomed to in its rich recent history.
“He has to be consistent in his performance and his preparation,” Coombs said of Banks. “But at the same time, I’ve been very pleased with Sevyn. I think he is an explosive athlete, I think he is big and long, which is very much in the tradition of the corners that we have had here at Ohio State. I’m excited to coach him and see how he fares out there.”
Senior cornerback Marcus Williamson, who has battled injuries throughout his Ohio State career, finally appears to be healthy and will have a great opportunity to take over the slot corner role vacated by Wade, who will move outside this season. Coombs said Williamson in the slot gives him better matchups against smaller receivers.
Coombs said of Williamson’s growth, “I think he’s had an extraordinary offseason, I think he’s playing really well right now. I’m excited to watch him continue to grow and compete as the season moves forward.”
Asked what he is looking for in a starter-caliber defensive back at Ohio State, Coombs said that he obviously wants guys who are long and fast. More than anything, however, Coombs said he wants a “gritty competitor” that “refuses to lose” and plays with a “fearless mentality of, ‘My man catches no balls.’”
Ohio State’s success in the secondary has been well-documented, and Coombs’ “Best in America” mantra has taken on a life of its own over the past several seasons dating back to 2016. Coombs said the “BIA” mantra is a bar that should be the standard given the fact that it’s Ohio State.
“Really, the whole mantra of ‘BIA’ came from being at the best place in America,” Coombs said. “If you’re in the best place in America, then we really should be the best in America at what we do … I just want to be around people who want to be the best in America at what they do.”
While the mantra remains in good standing at Ohio State, Coombs added that the mantra isn’t simply a cool phrase or a catchy Twitter hashtag; it’s something for every member of the unit to strive toward each and every day.
“(BIA) is a challenge because that means there is a standard to live up to every day,” Coombs said. “It’s not something that you just say, and someone slaps it on a shirt or in a hashtag. You become that. We try to hold ourselves accountable to that every day, and I think they have a vision of that. They have an understanding of what’s required, they’re in communication with our guys who are in the NFL, who let them know that you have to perform every day. There’s a living, breathing standard to live up to.”
Whether or not the next crop to make up the Buckeye secondary is ready to meet that standard remains to be seen. However, Coombs knows the talent is there to do just that, even if they are light on snaps and experience.
“It’s very early in camp for me to say I’m confident,” Coombs said. “But at the same time, I really like these kids. I love Shaun Wade, and I’m thrilled he came back. I think we have a lot of talent back there in the back end. It’s just young, inexperienced talent. But that’s what happens when you have great players. We lost a bunch of players off the defense, but we’ve recruited a bunch of really good players to take their places.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.