If you have watched the Ohio State Buckeyes this season, you clearly know that an injury and talent depleted secondary has been the weakness of the 2010 Silver Bullets. Wisconsin aside, the formula to move the ball on the OSU defense this year has been by attacking them through the air, clearly evident as Jim Heacock's unit gives up double the amount of passing yards allowed as they do rushing yards allowed per game.
While losing two starting safeties from last year's team, seeing CJ Barnett, Tyler Moeller, Christian Bryant, Corey "Pitt" Brown, and Donnie Evege go down to injury, and a disappointing performance out of the defensive line and pass rush for most of the season didn't help the secondary's cause any, a lack of talent and depth may be most to blame.
The top two corners on the team aren't much to brag about, but have gotten the job done this season. Chimdi Chekwa is a solid tackler and has definitely made strides as the season has gone on, but isn't great in man to man coverage and isn't the shut down corner we all hoped for after Malcolm Jenkins departed. He has come up with some big interceptions though, and seems to be in the right place at the right time as of late. Devon Torrence is a tremendous athlete who I think is the best corner on the team right now, but is still learning the position and has a while ago before he excels in shutting down opposing pass catchers every down. Despite their inefficiencies, these two players have stepped up and played a majority of the snaps this season, while Travis Howard, Dominic Clarke, and the other corners haven't shown enough to warrant any serious playing time. That was until a few weeks ago.
Coming off a bye week, the Buckeyes started doing a few things differently on defense. One of those new strategies included a new formation that featured Chimdi Chekwa at safety for Aaron Gant and inserted Travis Howard at the vacant corner spot. Howard, the redshirt sophomore from Dr. Krop High School in Miami, Florida, always had the goods to be a star, but injuries and a slower-than-expected learning curve had stunted his growth in Columbus. At 6-0/190, Howard posses ideal size to excel in the position and it appears he is growing right into his new role within the defense.
In the Penn State game Howard broke onto the scene in Buckeye Nation, taking an interception 30 yards for a score to put the victory away and also contributed with a pass break up. It was a performance everyone had been waiting for since Malcolm Jenkins proclaimed #18 as the next great defensive back at Ohio State. The following week at Iowa, with more confidence coming with more playing time, Howard swarmed all over Iowa receivers and helped keep Ricky Stanzi and the Hawkeyes' passing game at bay, as they registered under 200 yards on the day in a 20-17 OSU win. Putting two solid performances together, Howard saw serious minutes in "The Game" and once again came through for the secondary, with 3 tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception.
It is with perfect timing that Travis Howard is stepping up and proving he can be counted on when it matters most for Jim Tressel's team. Chekwa and Torrence both graduate after this season, leaving Howard, Clarke, Evege, FSU transfer Dionte Allen, freshman Bradley Roby, and incoming freshman DerJuan Gambrell as the only corners set to be on the roster as of now. The secondary will once again be a concern and area that opposing teams try to attack early in the season, so if Howard and someone with a ton of playing experience like Allen can step in and sure up the passing game, the Bucks' lives will be that much easier as they try to make a run at MNC next fall.
It will definitely be interesting to see where Howard goes from here on out, but if the last three games are any indication, Buckeye fans may indeed be seeing the next great OSU defensive back in #18. With over a month to hone up on his skills, watch film, and get stronger physically, look for Howard to play a big role in the defense come early January when the Bucks likely head to New Orleans or Miami, and to take that momentum and run with it all the way to the #1 corner back position in spring ball.