The absence of cornerbacks Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown from Thursday’s season opener necessitated that Ohio State start two freshmen on the outside of the secondary, and starting free safety Josh Proctor left the Minnesota game with an apparent shoulder injury.
The status of any of those three Buckeye defensive backs ahead of Saturday’s home opener against No. 12 Oregon could be unknown until the team's status report is released at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, as head coach Ryan Day and defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs gave little in the way of concrete details surrounding the injured members of the Ohio State secondary at Tuesday’s press conference.
“When we went to the availability report, we kind of took that out of it for a lot of reasons,” Day said at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “Certainly there are different situations for each person, and we just felt like moving forward, the best thing to do is not comment on any type of injuries.”
Immediately following Thursday night’s 45-31 win, Day sounded optimistic when asked about the aforementioned corners that Banks and Brown – both projected starters in the preseason – could return for Week 2.
“I hope so,” Day said. “We had Sevyn ready kind of in an emergency role, and we’re looking forward to getting those guys healthy to play next week.”
Banks, a senior and returning starter from the 2020 team, was listed neither as a game-time decision nor unavailable, but scarcely warmed up before the game and did not end up playing. Banks missed the spring with an undisclosed injury, and was held out of full-contact work for much of the preseason as well.
Brown, a redshirt junior who spent the spring rehabbing a torn Achilles injury suffered in 2020, missed some of preseason camp with an undisclosed issue, and was listed as unavailable on the team’s official status report prior to kickoff on Thursday. Brown did not travel with the team to Minnesota.
In place of Banks and Brown, true freshman Denzel Burke and redshirt freshman Ryan Watts filled in at each outside corner spot, logging the most snaps at the position for the Buckeyes with 63 and 48, respectively.
Burke, who tied Proctor with the most snaps played in the Ohio State secondary against Minnesota, was the lone cornerback to grade out as a champion in Thursday’s game.
“He had a really good spring, so we knew we had something,” Coombs said Tuesday. “Had a really good offseason, and he continued to play all throughout training camp. He continued to line up and play man-to-man against some of the best receivers that you will ever see, and he competes. Got a lot of growth and lot of improvement ahead of him, but he had a great camp, he had a good night Thursday and we’re looking forward to more of those in the future.”
With confidence in Burke evident from the Buckeye coaching staff as well as the players on both sides of the ball, it appears that the Arizona native could be a fixture in Coombs' defensive lineup no matter who is healthy for Ohio State in games to come.
“I think that the kids that are capable of playing and deserve to play – both physically and how they perform – will play,” Coombs said. “I’ve always believed in a fast, fresh player is better than a tired one. We’ve got good depth, and we’re going to play players that can make plays. So yeah, I would expect him to be in the rotation.”
If Proctor, who left Thursday’s game in the fourth quarter after colliding with a Gopher tight end, is unable to play on Saturday, Bryson Shaw could step into a starting role at safety. The redshirt sophomore played 15 snaps in the season opener and was listed with a champion grade from the coaching staff on Monday.
Ohio State’s pass defense will continue to field questions after giving up 304 yards per game through the air last season and opening 2021 with an uneven performance against the Gophers. However, even with several injuries, the Buckeyes limited Minnesota to just 205 yards passing on Thursday, and Oregon will enter Saturday’s matchup having thrown for just 172 yards in its season opener against Fresno State.