COLUMBUS – Ohio State’s new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles says he has installed only about 25 percent of his defensive concepts a little over three weeks before the Buckeyes’ opener against Notre Dame, but isn’t overly concerned about that.
It’s increasing exponentially daily,” Knowles said on Tuesday.
What is a concern right now for him is OSU’s lack of depth at cornerback. There are only six scholarship cornerbacks on the roster and recent injuries have reduced that small number even more.
Sophomore Denzel Burke and senior Cam Brown appear to have the starting spots locked down but an injury to back-up Jordan Hancock created a situation where, at least temporarily, safeties Cam Martinez and Jantzen Dunn have been practicing at cornerback.
Hancock was seen with a wrap on his lower right leg and walking slowly as he entered the Woody Hayes Athletic Center after practice on Monday.
“Cam took some reps at corner today. Jantzen took some reps at corner. We’re a little banged up at corner,” Knowles said.
Cornerback depth could be a long-term issue for OSU. “I think we’re going to have to keep those guys fresh. What are there, six scholarship guys? We’re going to have to dual train guys. It’s definitely something we’re keeping our eye on and making sure that we get multiple guys repetitions,” Knowles said.
Hancock, a second-year player, and redshirt freshman JK Johnson, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, are the most experienced backups at cornerback. The other two scholarship players are freshmen Jyaire Brown and Ryan Turner.
“We have to keep going full-steam ahead,” Knowles said. “We may tweak the plan a little bit as we go along, but we don’t have the luxury that you have in the spring to just say, ‘Hey, let’s push one day, pull back the next, push one day and pull back the next.’ We can’t do that right now. We’re push, push, push – maybe a little bit lighter push – but then push. So we’re not backing off.
“I see a lot of promising things but it’s my job at this time to keep the pressure on, to keep the pedal to the metal.”
– RELENTLESS DEFENSIVE LINE: “I feel like our defensive line, The Rushmen, have a lot of depth. We’re going to find ways to unleash them. They get after the quarterback. They get after it in the run game,” Knowles said.
– HICKS IMPRESSIVE: Knowles described 5-star freshman linebacker C.J. Hicks this way: “His upside is fantastic. He has a great quickness and athleticism that you don’t see out of many linebackers at that size.
“It’s just a matter of how quickly can he learn and get himself up to speed so he can use those tools. Sometimes when you’re thinking too much you can’t use your tools. We’ll just keep working with C.J., so he gets it down and can really cut loose. But I think his upside is going to be amazing.”
Starting linebacker Steele Chambers likes what he has seen from Hicks, too. “Sometimes he will get out there (in practice) and make first and second-team guys look silly,” he said.
— STYLES’ TALENT ALSO SHOWS: Freshman safety Sonny Styles has also earned a favorable assessment from Knowles.
“Sonny has really been impressive. He’s a guy who always studies and learns. I don’t remember ever yelling at him. I don’t remember him ever making a mistake. For a young guy that’s fantastic,” Knowles said.
“I think Sonny is going to be great. I don’t want to put too much on him yet because I want to get him into the flow. But in terms of the future, it’s going to be bright and it’s going to be a lot of fun with the things we’re going to be able to do with him,” he said.
—PROCTOR’S PROGRESS: Safety Josh Proctor, who missed Ohio State’s last 11 games last season because of a broken leg has looked good in preseason practices, Knowles said.
“The sky is the limit. He’s progressing very rapidly. He’s very talented. He could be the best in the country,” he said.