Denzel Burke was a Freshman All-American in 2021 as a surprise starter at cornerback for the Buckeyes. He became the first opening-day true freshman starter in the Ohio State secondary in decades.
Burke then brought All-American expectations into the 2022 season, but there wasn’t much cooperation early on. Receivers were specializing in miraculous catches, and no matter what Burke tried, there were things that just weren’t working.
He eventually righted himself and got back to his old ways, but the first half of the season is still what most people remember. That’s just one of the things that is fueling Burke this season.
“Me, I feel like going into this year, it’s a personal year for me. I want to prove all the doubters wrong,” Burke said. “And I want to go out there and do what I know I can do. Just put a lot of great stuff on tape and play hard for my team.”
So far this spring, that’s exactly what Burke has done according to cornerbacks coach Tim Walton.
“Yeah, for sure. I mean, he’s dialed in,” Walton said last week. “He’s focused. He’s into it. He’s having an excellent spring so far. Glad with his progression, glad with his process. We just have to keep it going.”
What does “dialed in” mean for Walton and Burke?
“Just dialed in. On reading the quarterback, on splits, on formations. All the things that go with that, being able to apply the coverages to the formations that we see,” Walton explained. “Then being able to see it with your eyes, play fast with your eyes, which gives him a good jump on the ball. So he’s doing a good job of that, just being focused every snap. He’s dialed in and he’s doing well.”
It’s not unusual for cornerbacks to go through slumps or rough patches. Few positions in sports are more difficult to handle, and few are more public when things go poorly. It’s a job that requires confidence, amnesia, and a strong sense of pride.
And like any other position, it’s one that is hard to handle when playing with an injury. That was the situation Denzel Burke found himself in last year as he dealt with a variety ailments.
How much did it hold him back?
“A lot,” he said. “And physically, I couldn’t do a lot of things. I had a shoulder, I had an ankle, a hand, fingers. I’m healthy this year, thank God. So, God willing, I could just stay healthy all year.”
The say the best ability is availability, but while Burke remained available, his injuries continued to negatively impact him.
“It definitely does,” Burke said. “Because when I’m not able to set my foundation, or able to do my technique, and then going out there and play , I haven’t really set my foundation, so a lot of things are off and then I’ve got to think about some of my injuries. You’ve got to find a way to play with the injuries, so yeah.”
For Burke, the old adage of “feel good, play good” absolutely fits him, because this spring he has been healthy and by all accounts he has been outstanding.
The Buckeyes have a determined cornerback leading the room this season, and he’s more motivated than ever.
“I learned a lot last year,” Burke said, “And I’m going to use everything to my advantage going into this year.”