Jaylen McClain Ohio State Buckeyes Safety

Jim Knowles Enthused By Young Buckeyes In Secondary

The Buckeyes are going to have arguably the best secondary in college football this season. Veteran cornerbacks in Denzel Burke, Davison Igbinosun, and Jordan Hancock, and two safeties in Lathan Ransom and Caleb Downs who could start anywhere else in the nation.

Burke, Hancock, and Ransom will be out of eligibility after this season, and Igbinosun will have an NFL decision to make as well. Which means the secondary you see in Ohio Stadium this year is going to be vastly different than the one you see next year.

Because of that, the constant development of the next wave of defensive backs is imperative. That was one of the areas of focus this spring for the Buckeyes, which led to some young members of the secondary staying pretty busy throughout the 15 practices.

For instance, this was redshirt freshman safety Jayden Bonsu’s first spring with the Buckeyes. He enrolled last June and didn’t see action in a single game last year.

This spring, however, with injuries to safeties Ransom, Ja’Had Carter, and Malik Hartford, Bonsu was playing with the first-team defense at strong safety. It was quite the call up, and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles saw it pay off.

“Yeah, every situation like that gives somebody an opportunity,” Knowles said. “Our depth was really down at safety this spring because you had Lathan, you had Ja’Had, you had Malik. So it opened up opportunities and Bonsu is a guy who really got a lot of reps and you saw him improve.”

Bonsu wasn’t the only young safety making his mark. True freshman Jaylen McClain was an early enrollee who opened up with the twos at free safety behind Caleb Downs. McClain took advantage of an injury to Hartford and made plays all through spring, as Ohio State fans saw with his interception in the spring game.

“McClain, I think is a great plus,” Knowles said. “I mean, he is a guy that has football intelligence. He’s picked it up. He’s one of those incoming freshmen who still should be in high school. He’s the guy I think you’re going to point to and you can see right now he’s going to be a player.”

With the transfer this spring of OSU safeties Cedrick Hawkins and Ja’Had Carter, the development of Bonsu and McClain is even more important.

But it wasn’t just the young safeties who got a good amount of work this spring, because the cornerbacks were busy too. The Buckeyes had three true freshman corners enroll early, but this was also the first spring for redshirt freshman Calvin Simpson-Hunt, who enrolled last June.

Simpson-Hunt played in the final five games of the season last year, but only saw snaps on defense twice. This spring he was with the twos, but would also bump up to the ones at times because Denzel Burke and Davison Igbinosun didn’t need as much work.

Knowles has been impressed by Simpson-Hunt from the outset.

“Yeah, I mean, he did come in late, and he’s competed. He’s one of those guys that just competes every day,” Knowles said. “He doesn’t say much. He’s trying to live up to the standard of the other guys. You see him coming along. You see him step by step coming along. When you put him in a competitive atmosphere and see him step up, that’s a great sign.”

Sophomore Jermaine Mathews, Jr. was in the same class as Calvin Simpson-Hunt, but Mathews played in all but one game last year. He saw extensive time in several games, even earning a start due to injuries.

Together, the pair give the Buckeyes two very promising options at cornerback next year. Add in the trio from the 2024 class, as well as some five-star commitments in the 2025 class, and the lineage of cornerbacks at Ohio State seems to be continuing unabated.

This, of course, is music to the ears of Jim Knowles.

“Yeah, when you have corners that you can count on that are going to compete all the time, no matter what the situation is — and we’ve developed that — it changes the way you call the entire game,” he said.

“I mean, you’re able to leave those guys on an island. You’re able to switch out coverages. They know what they’re doing, and they take great pride in it. So having those guys out there, and the development, it’s a big deal. It really is.”

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