Last season was a heck of a way for cornerbacks coach Tim Walton to return to Ohio State where he himself was once a starting cornerback.
The 2022 season saw the Buckeyes start five different cornerbacks over the course of an injury-ridden year. A scorecard could have been useful from week to week to see who was in that particular day’s lineup.
Of those five players who started last year, two departed. Cameron Brown graduated and JK Johnson — who played the second-most snaps among the corners — transferred to LSU.
Junior Denzel Burke returns for his third year as a starter. He is joined by classmate Jordan Hancock, who was in line to compete for a starting job last year before being sidetracked by an injury. Hancock still ended up getting a start last year, as did true freshman Jyaire Brown. Brown is also back this year after a strong freshman season.
Ohio State also went into the transfer portal, adding Ole Miss freshman All-American Davison Igbinosun in the winter and Notre Dame junior transfer Lorenzo Styles, Jr. this spring.
Having four guys with starting experience at cornerback is a nice situation to build upon. It creates exactly the kind of competition that Walton wants from his cornerbacks.
And even though Denzel Burke looks like he has a starting spot locked down, Walton’s message is that nothing is in stone.
“Everything is always open, man. You have to. This is a competitive deal,” he said. “[Denzel] had a great spring. He did a great job. He’s locked in. He’s our leader over there, so I don’t see much happening with that. But guys have got to compete, and that’s what we try to do to keep guys hungry for us so we can make sure we’re playing the best guys.”
Hancock has missed much of his first two seasons with injuries, but he had a strong spring and is clearly hungry to show what he can do. Meanwhile, Davison Igbinosun didn’t transfer to Ohio State to sit and watch.
What’s the advice to the two of them as they look to win a starting job?
“Just keep competing, man. Obviously, it’s about who becomes reliable, trustworthy, making plays, not giving up plays,” Walton said. “There’s a lot of those things that go in, and that happens over a period of time. That’s not one day. That’s gonna go over a course of training camp. That’s gonna go over course of the first part of the season. That’s an ongoing process with guys.
“So like I said, success is never owned. It’s rented, man. And the rent is due every day. So every day, you have to come with your A-game. You have to put the work in. And we have a good group of guys that is competing. So everybody has to be on point and continue to progress. Not make the same mistakes. Make sure you’re producing at a high level. That’s the expectation. And then we’ll just keep evaluating as the time goes on.”
Over the course of the spring, the top three cornerbacks were Burke, Hancock, and Igbinosun. Jyaire Brown was with the twos throughout as well, but also got some work at nickel when Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter went down.
The expectation, however, is that the bulk of the playing time will belong to the same top three that was seen in the spring. And it will be Igbinosun and Hancock competing for the job opposite Burke.
What do they each bring to the position?
“Well, they both have similar ways,” Walton said. “Obviously, Davison is very long. Jordan, he’s really good up top with his eyes and his brain, he sees the game really well. He’s very instinctual. He can feel. He has a great feel for the game. He has really good ball skills. He has a high IQ. So his anticipation and his instincts are very good. Davison is long. He can get hands on you. He’s very competitive. So you have different things. We just try to make sure we put them in the right spot so we get to maximize everyone’s skill set.”
The competition at cornerback will continue into fall camp, and well beyond. As Walton saw last year, you can never have enough options. Because of that, you can probably expect more than just two cornerbacks to regularly see the field this year for the Buckeyes.
Provided they have paid the landlord, of course.