After Showing Flashes of Being “One of the Top Corners in the Country,” Cameron Brown’s Return Could Be Crucial For the Buckeye Secondary

By Griffin Strom on December 18, 2021 at 8:41 am
Cameron Brown
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

Early Thursday afternoon, Cameron Brown was still not ready to announce a decision.

The fourth-year Buckeye cornerback, who went through Senior Day ceremonies at Ohio Stadium on Nov. 20, told members of the media “I’m not really thinking about” whether or not he would return to the program in 2022. When asked to sum up his tenure with the Buckeyes in the event that he would not be back, Brown even offered up something of a eulogy on his college career.

“My career was very bumpy, I was hurt a lot, but it’s just different obstacles for me to hopefully make a greater story,” he said.

But Brown, who confirmed he would play in the Rose Bowl regardless of his decision about next year, had likely already made up his mind about what the next chapter of that story would look like.

The four-star recruit from the class of 2018 issued a statement on social media just eight hours after the aforementioned interview session, announcing that he’s “not done yet” and will be back in scarlet and gray for a fifth season of college football in Columbus.

“There are many more memories to make and games to win with my brothers,” Brown’s statement read in part.

Brown may not be a household name across the country, but the news is far from insignificant for the Buckeyes.

Entering Thursday, Ohio State fans clamoring for reinforcements in the secondary in 2022 had been no stranger to disappointment. Two top defensive back targets for the Buckeyes in this recruiting cycle – Zion Branch and Xavier Nwankpa – signed with USC and Iowa, respectively. Terrance Brooks, who had been the top-rated cornerback in the Buckeyes’ recruiting class, flipped to Texas on Early Signing Day.

Ohio State lost second-year corner Ryan Watts to the transfer portal on Dec. 10, and despite the program’s initial interest in LSU transfer cornerback Eli Ricks, the Buckeyes reportedly withdrew interest before the 2020 third-team All-American committed to Alabama.

With Brown and senior Sevyn Banks both considering a jump to the NFL, the cornerback position in particular was on the verge of being turned over to a group of players that – aside from Denzel Burke – do not possess much in the way of experience.

But Brown’s decision changes that, and even fighting through injuries for the entire season, he's been stellar in stretches for the Buckeyes in downfield coverage.

“I believe I’ve shown flashes that I’m one of the top corners in the country,” Brown said. “I’ve just dealt with different things, but I do believe I’ve shown flashes that I’m one of the top corners in the country.”

Brown’s seven passes defended this season are second only to Burke, and while the true freshman has started every game for Ohio State, Brown has missed three games and started just five. Five of Brown’s pass breakups came in his first two appearances of the season alone, as he tallied three against Oregon and another pair against Tulsa. Brown also made his first career interception in a Penn State game that was ultimately decided by a single-digit margin.

His fourth year might have been even more of a breakthrough if not for the injury issues that plagued him for much of the way. Brown didn’t make the trip for Ohio State’s season opener against Minnesota, and the Missouri native wore a bulky knee brace for much of the year thereafter.

The undisclosed knee ailment is totally separate from the torn Achilles that Brown suffered in late October of 2020, which ended his junior season with the Buckeyes before it could truly get going. But Brown said the Achilles has been the least of his troubles in 2021.

“Injuries always set you back, you miss out on a lot of months of development,” Brown said. “But the training’s been going really hard, trying to help me get out there and just keep going. So I’m doing good right now ... I had no issues with my Achilles at all for the past year. The other stuff, you saw me in the knee brace, but that’s nothing now. So I don’t need to worry no more.”

In Ohio State’s Oct. 9 matchup with Maryland, Brown suffered a blow to the head on a tackle attempt that knocked him out of the game – another slight setback that Brown had to work through during the regular season.

Although he’ll need to health to hold up better to do so, Brown could be in line to start every game in 2022 as the most experienced corner on the roster.  

Not that Brown felt the Buckeye cornerback room would have been in shambles if he left. Burke’s pedigree is already abundantly evident, but Brown said true freshmen Jakailin Johnson and Jordan Hancock – both top-five cornerbacks in the class of 2021 – have “the right mentality” when it comes to playing the position.

“They’re some dogs. They like to hit, they love competing, they ain’t gonna back down for no one,” Brown said. “They go against the best receivers in the country; they go against Chris (Olave) and Garrett (Wilson) and Jaxon (Smith-Njigba) and everybody – they just don’t back down from them. They go head first like they’re the ones … A lot of people haven’t seen Jakailin or Jordan, but ya’ll gonna wake up soon. They’re the truth.”

The proverbial dog in Brown was clear to see as well this season, specifically during a brief dust-up with several Wolverines during the second half of the Buckeyes’ 42-27 loss on Nov. 27. Brown’s emotion in that moment may have been emblematic of Ohio State’s frustration in a game that seemed to be slipping away, but it also might have shown a fire that not enough Buckeyes possessed during their first defeat to Michigan in a decade.

“It’s football. It’s different things that come with it, and you just gotta deal with it,” Brown said. “I feel like, me personally, I honestly do regret a little bit of it, because I know I’m more disciplined and mentally strong than retaliating for something that happened.”

With his decision to return to the Buckeyes next season, Brown will have the opportunity to retaliate against the Wolverines in a different way – getting that win back in what should be his final home game at Ohio Stadium.

Before then, Brown feels he still has plenty to improve on ahead of the Rose Bowl and a fifth season that could earn him a whole lot of money if he can consistently exhibit the level of play he showcased at times in 2021.

“It’s always something that you gotta improve on. It’s little things for me; I’m very detailed about myself, how I want to do things, how I go about things,” Brown said. “And if things don’t work out the way I wanted to, even if I make a play and I feel like there’s something I could’ve done better – because it’s always something you can do better – I’m gonna get mad at myself and try to figure it out.”

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