COLUMBUS — How can Ohio State get better play from its cornerbacks this season?
Confidence could be key.
Then again so could having more depth and talent.
Tim Walton appears willing to try all three.
“They’re understanding the system. They’re understanding stuff to do, you know what I mean?” the Ohio State secondary/cornerbacks coach said Thursday. “So as you start to go through it, they’re understanding details. They understand how to go apply it so now they’re able to play fast. When you’re able to play fast you’re gonna touch the ball more, so that’s what happens with that now. So now you’re able to see it, diagnose it and you’re gonna be able to put your hands on the ball a little bit more.”
There is little question Walton has more to work with this season than last, his first as a coach at the school where he played cornerback from 1989-93.
The Buckeyes went into 2022 with six scholarship cornerbacks, and only two of them had played much, if at all, at the college level.
Fast forward 12 months and Walton has eight players on scholarship, and only two of them are true freshmen.
“We got a lot of guys that are playing well that have a good feel for this thing,” Walton said. “We have guys that have been very productive for us, so we’re just trying to see what they do and trying to sort it out and just make sure we got them in the right place.”
Jermaine Mathews Jr. and Calvin Hunt-Simpson were both four-star signees in the class of 2023, but Walton likely hopes he does not need to rely on them much unless they prove to be too good to keep off the field.
The return of Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock, both third-year players who battled injuries last season, should help along with the expected maturation of second-year players Jyaire Brown and Ryan Turner.
Walton also went to work in the transfer portal, where he found a pair of four-star prospects in Davison Igbinosun and Lorenzo Styles Jr.
Igbinosun already has a year of experience at the highest level of college football, having spent last season as a freshman All-American at Mississippi.
Styles has two years of college football under his belt, but he was a receiver at Notre Dame.
While Styles faces a learning curve after switching sides of the ball, last year left no doubt for Walton that a team can never have enough options.
“Yeah I feel real good about it because now we’ve been healthy,” Walton said. “Guys have been in a system. Guys understand it, so you’re developing chemistry. You’re developing unity, camaraderie. So those guys are playing together now so it’s communication. You forget last year it was a lot of injuries. A lot of guys in and out, so there’s a lot that goes into effect. I can go through and show you we had five or six different lineups in 12 games, so what happens to you now is guys are all there, guys all played together, guys all understand it, so now you can see it jell a little bit more.”
As for the confidence, that is not something Burke has appeared to lack since he arrived on campus three years ago from Phoenix, Ariz., and became an immediate starter.
Shoulder and finger injuries hampered him last season, though, and he appears excited to have a clean slate for 2023.
“I really couldn’t set my foundation, but this year, I took pride in just being a pro, man, and just taking care of my body, getting extra work in every day,” Burke said. “Not leaving the field without getting work in and pushing my teammates to be the best version of themselves.”
He agreed being in year two of the defense coordinator Jim Knowles installed last year helps the corners play with more confidence, too.
“It just gives you kind of an idea of when the ball is coming out,” Burke said. “If it’s coming out now, if it’s coming out late and just being in the right position all the time.”