The Emergence of Howard

By Alex on December 1, 2010 at 1:00p
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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.


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Matt's picture

Howard has been a pleasant surprise.  Lookin towards next year, I wouldn't be surprised to see Howard and Dionte Allen starting at corner, with CJ Barnett and Christian Bryant as the safeties, and Tyler Moeller as STAR.  Oriahn Johnson can spell the safeties and come in on dime packages.  Although it has been a painful year in the secondary with injuries, it appears that next year's defense will see a complete role reversal with this year's defense -- the secondary will be the experienced unit on which the defense heavily relies, with the defensive line and linebacker units decimated by graduations (and possible early entries, if the winds blow well for Nate Williams as an OLB in a 3-4 NFL defense).

btalbert25's picture

The secondary does seem like it will be a strong unit next season.  While the LB's will be inexperienced I think they may be a better unit as well, if you believe all the hype about Bell and Sabino.  We know Sweat is good and Klein will see some PT too I'm sure.  The line does worry me a bit, hopefully williams will stay.  Hankins may be an upgrade and there's a lot of very talented guys waiting in the wings.  It could actually end up being a better D next year.

yrro's picture

There a line here... I, too, am excited about seeing what our new players can do. That to me is the best part of watching the spring game and the early season cupcakes.

But it always bugs me when we say that "we may see an improvements over X senior" when that senior is already one of the best at their position in the country. I feel that we as fans get too caught up in the recruiting hype of the next guy up and end up disrespecting those players who have already contributed and been dominant.

btalbert25's picture

I'm not trying to slam anyone.  Rolle and Homan have been great players, I always have defended Checkwa too.  I'm just excited for the future with Hankins.  He looks like he's going to be a real impact player on the D.   My comment about Sabino was more  sarcastic than anything else.   The fans all love him and basically he's never done anything.  I know I know a couple of special teams tackles that prove he is OMG the greatest player ever lol.

Blake's picture

Love this article. I always get pumped to read about the young guys who are beginning to step forward. I remember when Howard was just a 3 star recruit coming into OSU and I don't think a lot of expectations were put on him, but he's becoming a real player here.

I'm also pumped to see Dorian Bell hopefully lock down a starting spot next year...and God forbid...Sabino as well, finally?


Howard wasn't a three star player he was in the ESPN 150

Blake's picture

You could be right there. I mostly just read rivals and scout...I'm pretty sure he was a 3 star on scout, and maybe a 4 star on rivals, but I don't remember. I'm not pumped on espn's rankings.

buckeye33's picture

Our run defense has always been better than our pass defense.  For the last decade we have always been willing to give up "the underneath" as opposed to getting beat deep. Once again we should be able to reload on defense, and may even be stronger next season. What was really confusing was the lack of sacks we had this season ?

anchorman's picture

I have always said that Howard was going to be a good one! And he is proving himself. Started slow due to the injuries, but he is coming on and I believe he is the next great CB at tOSU!

blazers34's picture

Cornerback depth is yet another reason that Doran Grant should come to tOSU.  Im not saying that he will start, or even play a lot, but if ever there was a chance, it is next year.

The Stanley Jackson 5's picture

Is Corey Brown going to miss spring ball as well?..... Theoretically he should be in the CB mix if he rehabs, no?.........

Buckeye in Athens's picture

Pretty sure he was moved to safety before the injury.

dmurder's picture

Bryant, and Barnett are going to be very good, excited about the Florida state transfer Allen. Anyone heard anything about him at all?


I when Doran Grant comes here he will see the field, injuries are part of the game look at this year, how many freshman played?


I think the d-line will be young but talented goebel, fellows, hankins, Thomas.


What does your starting lineup look like next year


Allen CB

Howard CB

Barnett S

Bryant S

Sabino LB

Bell LB

Sweat LB

Hankins DT

Simon DT

Williams DE

Thomas DE

"We have always had the best damn band in the land, now we have the best damn team in the land"- Jim Tressel 1-03-03

Buckeye in Athens's picture

Looks pretty solid. I think it may be more of a battle between Bell/Klein/Sabino for linebacker spots. Klein has looked good in his limited PT. 


On the line, I wonder how Safari Planet is doing? If healthy, he has the tools to battle for Cam's spot. And then Goebel and Bellamy will certainly be rotating/starting in the middle too. Next year should be deeper, that's for sure. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of the freshman challenge on D-line too

Chris Lauderback's picture

I don't think Sabino will start at LB next year. I'll bet the first disagreeing commenter a shirt from the 11W store.

Colin's picture

I disagree, so what does that mean if I lose?

Buckeye in Athens's picture

So you see a Bell, Sweat, and Klein combo or something different? I wouldn't be too surprised with this. 

ToledoBuckeye's picture

I don't think so either.  If he was the stud everyone makes him out to be than he would have beat out Sweat.  I can see Newsome, Sweat and Bell at the LB's.  However, I could see Sabino as the next Jermale Hines.  I also wouldn't be surprised to see some of the incoming freshman get some reps.  Look for Kenny Hayes to get some PT at Cam's old spot. 

"Anything easy ain't worth a damn." - Woody Hayes

tampa buckeye's picture

You forgot T moeller.  

slippy's picture

Is CB2 really going to be a deep safety when he gets back?  I see him sliding into the corner spot opposite Howard.

Buckeye in Athens's picture

Dionte Allan has been good from what I've heard. He's already won one or two scout team PotW awards too. 

dmurder's picture

That is what am talking about.

"We have always had the best damn band in the land, now we have the best damn team in the land"- Jim Tressel 1-03-03

Joe Beale's picture

In unrelated news, Purdue is just awful on offense without Hummel.  They are struggling mightily to score points against a mediocre VaTech team.

ERIC OSU's picture

you shoulda seen them against the spiders of Richmond in which they lost by like 10.... i stumbled across the game on the B10 network over the weekend and they were even more lethargic. IMO they are not a top-25 team....they really miss the pesky/annoying kramer at the point as well as hummel.

Joe Beale's picture

Goin' to overtime, tied 51-51.  It's a battle of offensive ineptitude.

Joe Beale's picture

Somehow, P.U. managed to eke out the victory, and so the Big Ten wins the challenge.