COLUMBUS -- Denzel Burke is back at Ohio State this fall.
And better than ever?
The sophomore from Arizona, who was named to multiple freshman All-America teams lats season, says yes.
“I would just say I’m a lot more confident,” he told reporters this week. “Got my feet under me. Got a year under me. My job is just to be specific with my details in the game and just take care of the little things out there, and then everything will take care of itself.”
Burke made an immediate impact last season in a secondary immediately needing help.
He became the first true freshman to start the season-opener on defense since linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer in 1996, and he started every other game of the season, too.
The third-team All-Big Ten selection finished with 36 tackles and a team-high 12 pass break-ups.
With fellow starter Cam Brown also returning, the hope is Ohio State won’t have to lean so heavily on inexperienced players in the secondary this season.
The whole group is also under new management with Perry Eliano coaching the safeties and Tim Walton handling the cornerbacks.
“I just feel like he helped us a lot — off the field mainly,” Burke said of working with Walton. “And that kind of just translates to the field. He teaches us a lot of the little things, and he’s a great mentor, coach and person to be around.”
Walton, a former Buckeye player who had been coaching in the NFL for more than a decade, is impressed with Burke and what he sees as a whole from his position group.
“He’s a competitive guy,” Walton said. “He’s passionate about playing the game, man, so when it’s really important to you, you do all the little things to keep getting better..
“And that’s what he’s done since I’ve been here. He’s gotten better and better. He’s worked at it. He can take the coaching. He can make the corrections. And he loves the play, man.”
The position endured some injuries early in camp, but Walton and Burke both said they expect to have the group at full strength when Notre Dame comes to town Sept. 3.
“Guys are back now,” Walton said. “It’s starting to roll, so we feel good about it.”
At the end of spring, safety was identified as a position with depth concerns.
Senior Josh Proctor getting back to full strength and junior Lathan Ransom becoming available after both suffered season-ending leg injures last season has bolstered the group, though.
So, too, has the continued development of sophomores Kourt Williams and Cam Martinez.
With Ronnie Hickman and Tanner McCalister expected to join Proctor in the starting lineup, Eliano appears to have more players than he has playing time now.
That, of course, is a good problem to have, and not one that seems to concern him much.
“We have different packages where guys have roles in their in that package,” said Eliano, who coached cornerbacks at Cincinnati last season. “My message is always be a champion in your role.”
He sees a strong camaraderie throughout the group.
“They love each other,” Eliano said. “We got a great thing in the room. There’s a great bond, and everybody’s rooting for each other.
“To have six guys that you can honestly say can go win for us as a unique thing, and I’m blessed. So they know they’ve got to come to work every day and that’s a great thing about the room, but everybody has a role. They understand their role is clear cut. There’s no gray area about their role, so there’s no issues there and they know if they put in the work, they have an opportunity to play when the lights come on.”