Kerry Coombs is up to his old tricks.
Heading into his second season of stint No. 2 in Columbus, Kerry Coombs and the Ohio State secondary are under the microscope. The Buckeyes will look to rebound in the defensive backfield after an abysmal showing in 2020. Sevyn Banks and Josh Proctor should lead the way, Cam Brown will return from an Achilles injury, and several youngsters have already shown some promise.
As is almost always the case, recruiting and development are at the core of the issue. Tyreke Johnson simply hasn't developed the way most expected he would. Jordan Battle backed off his Ohio State pledge and ended up at Alabama following Urban Meyer's retirement. Talented cornerback Clark Phillips III flipped to Utah after Jeff Hafley left for Boston College. And I have no idea what Taver Johnson was doing during his brief appearance in 2018.
The real verdict won't be in until the fall, but there's no denying that there's plenty of help on the way. Coombs signed six defensive backs for the Class of 2021. Jantzen Dunn and Denzel Burke enrolled early and have been on campus since January. The rest of the bunch – including a pair of potentially instant-impact corners in Jakailin Johnson and Jordan Hancock – will make their push for early playing time when they arrive this summer.
And the beat goes on for the Class of 2022. Ohio State is up to 12 commitments with a third of those being of the defensive back variety. Coombs is fresh off of two new pledges from the Sunshine State in cornerback Ryan Turner and athlete/safety Kye Stokes. The Buckeyes beat Clemson for Turner while Stokes is perhaps the fastest-rising player in the country. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he's received recent offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and LSU. Then there's five-star Jacksonville native Jaheim Singletary and one of Ohio's very best in West Chester's Jyaire Brown.
It's safe to say that Kerry Coombs never lost his recruiting edge during his two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
We're expecting the Buckeyes to add at least two more defensive backs before all is said and done for the 2022 class. We'll have our full updated board available on Tuesday, but now is a good time to take a peak at who's left in the secondary and how things may look come next February.
|Toriano Pride||CB||5-foot-11, 172 pounds||St. Louis, Mo.||★★★★||No. 180 (No. 22 CB)|
|Will Johnson||CB||6-foot-3, 190 pounds||Grosse Pointe, Mich.||★★★★★||No. 11 (No. 4 CB)|
|Austin Jordan||CB/S||5-foot-11, 185 pounds||Denton, Texas||★★★★||No. 196 (No. 10 SAF)|
|Julian Humphrey||CB||6-foot-1, 185 pounds||Houston, Texas||★★★★||No. 135 (No. 16 CB)|
|Xavier Nwankpa||SAF||6-foot-2, 190 pounds||Altoona, Iowa||★★★★||No. 71 (No. 5 SAF)|
|Zion Branch||SAF||6-foot-2.5, 190 pounds||Las Vegas, Nev.||★★★★||No. 49 (No. 4 SAF)|
|Kamari Ramsey||SAF||6-foot-1, 195 pounds||Chatsworth, Calif.||★★★★||No. 107 (No. 8 SAF)|
The rest of the cycle may very well come down to a handful of defensive back options. For now, I'm of the belief that seven of them are really worth watching. But it is worth remembering that many states had limited high school football action in 2020 (or none whatsoever) and more offers could go out as film starts to surface. Kye Stokes was just offered on April 26th. Less than a week later, he was in the commitment column.
Coombs will get his shot at another St. Louis star when Toriano Pride makes his official visit on June 4. Getting him on campus is great, but it's unfortunate that Clemson will do the same a week later. It should come down to one of the two power programs, and the Tigers are the current crystal ball favorite. Pride has made it clear that he's looking at depth charts and other commitments. It's worth noting that the Buckeyes now have three corners on the board while Clemson doesn't have a single one committed.
Had it not been for yesterday's news, I wouldn't even be mentioning Will Johnson here. The five-star Michigan cornerback is a Wolverine legacy and has been the leader of Jim Harbaugh's 2022 class since February. The hiring of defensive backs/co-defensive coordinator Maurice Linguist is what seemed to swing the momentum back in Michigan's favor. Just yesterday it was announced that Linguist is the new head coach at Buffalo. This comes just four months after accepting the job in Ann Arbor.
What does it mean for Will Johnson? A lot will certainly depend on who Harbaugh hires. If the prized corner decides to bolt, USC or Ohio State would be two of the more likely landing spots. Johnson had built up a strong relationship with Coombs before pledging to the maize and blue. He's also visited USC and is extremely close with Trojan corner commit Domani Jackson.
We haven't talked all that much about a pair of Texas defenders. Austin Jordan is set to make his official visit in June, but right now I'd lean Oklahoma over Ohio State. I'm not entirely sure where he falls on the pecking order, though I do think the staff is at least keeping things warm there. Julian Humphrey is an interesting one because he has yet to receive an Ohio State offer but is still planning a June trip to Columbus. The Houston product could be one to watch closely if he does make that trip and earns a Buckeye offer.
The hybrid bullet position that now actually seems to be a real thing should give Kerry Coombs and Al Washington some more ammunition on the trail. The Buckeyes are going to need different types of bodies to man the single-high, slot, and the safety/linebacker hybrid roles. Even with Stokes already in the fold, Coombs could still add two more players at safety.
I wouldn't expect a lot of changes for the safety targets. It's true that a guy like three-star Georgia native Jake Pope is on the radar, but the big three will likely remain intact moving forward until they're officially committed and signed. Iowa's Xavier Nwankpa, Vegas's Zion Branch, and Cali's Kamari Ramsey are the top targets at the position. And all three are scheduled to make their official visits to Ohio State next month.
Nwankpa has been a priority for some time now. Notre Dame is involved here, but I get the feeling it's going to come down to the Buckeyes and Aggies. It's looking like an Ohio State vs. USC battle for Branch. The Ramsey sweepstakes is setting up to be the Buckeyes vs. the West Coast. His top five includes Ohio State, USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Arizona State. That one also could come down to the Buckeyes and Trojans.
Landing one of the trio of safeties to complement Stokes would be a home run. Landing two would be a grand slam for Kerry Coombs and Co. Nwankpa continues to be the most likely addition, but the June official visits should tell the tale as the Buckeyes aim for a strong finish in the defensive backfield.
Coombs will look to turn things around this fall. And he'll need to do just that if Ohio State is to earn a playoff spot for the fifth time. The good news is that there's absolutely no shortage of talent for the foreseeable future in Columbus.