A ridiculously expedited timeline, Kerry Coombs recounted, served as the toughest aspect of securing a signed National Letter of Intent from Cameron Martinez.
“How do you develop trust in that short window of time?” Coombs asked rhetorically. “Well you'd better spend a lot of time with him in person and on the phone, whatever the rules allow.”
Coombs went ahead and spent an entire day in January, from early in the morning until late at night, in Muskegon, Michigan, with the sole purpose of developing a relationship in an abnormally short period of time. It worked, with Martinez putting his decision in writing on Wednesday morning. He’s a Buckeye.
But Coombs would prefer not to have to go through such a sped-up process. He hasn’t had to worry about that with the majority of the returning defensive backs, most of whom he knows from recruiting and coaching them in his first stint as an assistant coach at Ohio State before he left to take a job coaching the Tennessee Titans’ secondary under Mike Vrabel in 2018.
Among those with a long-standing relationship whom he has reunited with is Shaun Wade, a nickel cornerback last season who opted to put off the NFL for a year to return for another season at Ohio State. Because of that choice, Coombs now has his No. 1 cornerback for the 2020 season.
“I think it means the world, first of all, that he came back,” Coombs said on Wednesday.
Nobody can really overstate Wade’s return.
Had Wade left for the NFL, a decision so many people expected him to make, Coombs would have entered the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in January having to replace every single starter from a defensive backfield that played a significant role in Ohio State allowing the nation's fewest passing yards per attempt in 2019. Jeff Okudah left early, as expected, to become a top-10 NFL draft pick, and Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller ran out of college eligibility.
Yet Wade chose to stay at Ohio State for one more season.
“Just like when Damon came back, having somebody who has that much experience, played in big games, that was a big, big deal for us,” Ryan Day said a couple weeks ago. “And Shaun is now going to become a leader. He's got to take that next step. And we're going to move him to corner full time. He's going to play out there. We think he's going to be -- he should be a Thorpe Award finalist right off the get-go. He's got a chance to be one of the best corners in the country and hopefully a first-round draft pick next year. That's huge for us. We're going to have some younger guys playing back there. So having his experience will be really important.”
One of the main draws of a return in 2020 for Wade, which both Day and Coombs mentioned, was the chance to improve his draft stock.
Of course he wants to win a national championship. But he also got feedback that he wouldn’t go in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft if he left, per The Athletic, which he surely didn’t agree with. One more year in college – and another season with Coombs – could change that projection.
In the fall, he’ll get a chance to make it happen by moving outside from nickelback and becoming unequivocally the team’s top cover corner.
“First of all, he's got to play on the outside. He's got to demonstrate,” Coombs said. “He's got great length. He can run. He's got to demonstrate that he can go against the No. 1 receivers in the country, week in and week out the best guys on the other guy's team and eliminate them from the offense. If you can do that, you've got a great chance. You're not going to win every play, but you'd better win most of them. We know what that looks like.
“He's got to accept that challenge. He's got to do a lot of film study. He's got to get better at the line of scrimmage in his technique. He's been playing inside. It's a different technique. He's got things that he's going to have to work on, and he will. I really believe that he will.”
Nobody knows more about how to consistently turn college cornerbacks into NFL first-round picks than Coombs, who did so five times between 2014 and 2018. When he landed commitments from Okudah and Wade years ago as five-star prospects, he undoubtedly had visions of them following in the footsteps of Bradley Roby, Eli Apple, Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward as top draft picks.
Okudah, though Coombs only spent a year with him, will be the next first-round corner to come out of Columbus, and Wade wants to be another in 2021.
“My first conversation with Shaun about this was this: You don't become a first-round pick because you came back,” Coombs said. “You don't get to be a top-10 pick because you came back. A year older doesn't make any difference right? You've got to go to work, and you've got to get started. There are things that you're going to have to do to make that happen.”
Coombs said that the “beauty of this deal” is that he has now coached in the NFL, meaning he knows exactly what those at the next level want from cornerbacks in the first round.
“Can he do that? Absolutely,” Coombs said. “Does he have the potential to be the same as all those other guys? Absolutely. What he does between now and August whatever-it-is when we come to training camp is going to dictate a large part of it.”
From Ohio State’s perspective, with an inexperienced slate of cornerbacks surrounding him, it’s important that Coombs and Wade maximize what’ll likely be the potential All-American’s final season in Columbus.