Ohio State might have lost the most energetic member of its coaching staff when cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs decided to leave the Buckeyes for the Tennessee Titans last month.
Former Ohio State cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, however, says Ohio State’s new cornerbacks coach will provide no shortage of energy of his own.
Chekwa, who played for the Buckeyes during Taver Johnson’s first stint as Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach, said Johnson’s energy was the biggest thing that stood out in his mind when he recalled what it was like to play for the Buckeyes’ newly re-hired cornerbacks coach on Tuesday.
"I remember, as a player, Coach Johnson brought the energy every single day," Chekwa told Eleven Warriors on Tuesday. "To be able to get a young individual’s attention every single day and get through to them, it’s a tough, tough task, and he was able to do that."
If you’re looking for an example of how Johnson was successful in his previous tenure as Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach and why Urban Meyer chose him as Coombs’ replacement, Chekwa might be Exhibit A. A three-star recruit out of Clermont, Florida, Chekwa redshirted his first season as a Buckeye in 2006, but after Johnson arrived as cornerbacks coach in 2007, Chekwa steadily improved over the next four years, ultimately earning first-team All-American honors as a senior in 2010 before going on to a six-year career in the NFL.
Chekwa says Johnson was a key mentor in his growth from being a kid out of high school to an adult who would go on to play professional football, and he expects Johnson to have the same impact on Ohio State’s current cornerbacks in his return to the Buckeyes.
"You need coaches who can be a little more than just coaches," Chekwa said. "You’re playing football at Ohio State, you’re very, very close to playing professional football. You’re not getting paid to play and stuff, but outside of that, everything else is like professional football, and it’s not an easy adjustment. So you need someone to help you with that adjustment process, and I think Coach Johnson’s the right guy to do it."
“To be able to get a young individual’s attention every single day and get through to them, it’s a tough, tough task, and he was able to do that.”– Chimdi Chekwa on playing for Taver Johnson
In addition to the aforementioned energy, Chekwa said another quality that he appreciated about Johnson – who was the defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Temple last year, was the defensive coordinator at Miami (Ohio) before his first stint at Ohio State and also has experience as a linebackers coach and defensive line coach – was his understanding of how an entire defense works, which enabled him to teach Chekwa and his teammates more than just how to play their specific position.
"He always made a point to teach us the defense," Chekwa said. "And I think he did a good job of helping us become better, just have a better understanding of how we work with the linebackers, how we work with the safeties, how coverage works with the defensive line and them trying to get to the quarterback. And that adds an element, especially to a young cornerback’s game, knowing that 'OK, we’re sending this blitz,' and we know we have more than they can block, so now I only have to cover for maybe like two seconds, 'cause the ball has to come out quick, so now I can be more aggressive. That kind of changes the way you play, it gives you more insight on how to read and react as a corner."
Chekwa, who still keeps in touch with Johnson to his day, says he tried to apply what he learned from Johnson to his own coaching career when he served as the cornerbacks coach at Ohio Dominican University last year.
"When I was as a coach and I’d come into meetings, and some days I’d be tired, and I would just remember, 'Hey, Coach Johnson brought that energy every day,' so let me see if I remember the way he got juiced up and try to mimic that," said Chekwa, who is also a co-owner of The Pit BBQ Grille in Columbus and said he is currently "trying to figure out what I really want to do" in his post-football playing career.