Denzel Burke’s performance in 2022 didn’t live up to expectations. The Ohio State cornerback is showing his coaches he doesn’t want that to happen again.
Expected to be one of the best cornerbacks in college football last season after earning Freshman All-American honors in 2021, Burke never quite played to that level as a sophomore. While his performance improved as the year progressed, his year was stained by a poor start as he was beaten for 231 yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns in his first four game appearances of the year, per Pro Football Focus.
As such, Ohio State secondary coach Tim Walton left the door open for Burke to be surpassed on the depth chart during an interview session on Feb. 1. When asked then if Burke was a set starter, Walton said “nothing’s locked in” and that “some guys may beat some guys out,” adding that “just because you was a starter a year ago doesn't mean it's gonna be this year.”
That said, Burke was always going to have the inside track to one of Ohio State’s starting cornerback jobs this season, having started all 24 games he’s played in during his first two years as a Buckeye. And it certainly sounds as though Burke has done what he’s needed to do so far this offseason to strengthen his standing atop the cornerback depth chart.
“I thought Denzel’s really had a really good eight weeks (of winter workouts) and had a really good first day today, so I think that's been great,” Ryan Day said after Ohio State’s first practice of the spring Tuesday.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said Burke impressed Ohio State’s entire defensive staff with his performance during winter workouts and followed that up with an excellent first practice Tuesday that earned him the spring’s first Silver Bullet of the Day award.
“I think Denzel this offseason just stood out, man,” Knowles said Tuesday. “Just his physical development, the way he competed. We were talking about (Monday) as a defensive staff, I had the defensive staff go through a draft. I'm not giving out any of their results, but I had them go through a draft. And we kind of draft our team to kind of see what our thoughts are on each player. And you can see where maybe somebody drafted him high and somebody drafted him low, but Denzel came out great in that. And I think everybody has seen the offseason.
“And then (Tuesday), he got his hands on more balls than maybe all last spring and camp together. So he just seems to be on point.”
He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. Muhammad Ali— Jim Knowles (@CoachJimKnowles) March 8, 2023
Spring 23 Practice #1
@King10Burke #BIA #StrengthAndHonor pic.twitter.com/ILVOTN0zld
Ohio State ensured that Burke and all of Ohio State’s returning cornerbacks would have competition this spring by bringing in Ole Miss transfer cornerback Davison Igbinosun, who started 10 games in 2022 for the Rebels. Although Burke and Jordan Hancock led the cornerback lines during the portions of the first two spring practices that were open to the media, Igbinosun is already making his own push for a starting job by impressing coaches in his first weeks as a Buckeye.
“Davison looked good out there today,” Knowles said Tuesday. “Picking things up, but really just breaking on the ball. I liked his length. He has real length and got his hands on a lot of balls. And he was quick to mix it up, too. I joke with him all the time, he’s got that Jersey toughness, and he's got experience in the SEC. Played a lot of football. I just think he's gonna bring a lot of competition to the position.”
A first look at Davison Igbinosun at Ohio State practice: pic.twitter.com/3HakOfdach— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) March 7, 2023
After a disappointing year for the secondary as a whole last season, Day and Knowles both felt it was important to have competition on the back end of the defense this spring, which means all of the cornerbacks have to prove themselves in order to earn starting jobs or spots in the rotation this fall. Burke, Igbinosun and Hancock also face competition from Jyaire Brown, Ryan Turner and Jermaine Mathews Jr., and the coaches think that competition will make everyone better.
“We need competition,” Knowles said. “We need guys fighting to play. We need guys competing against our offense, getting hands on balls.”
So far, it sounds like that’s exactly what Burke has done. If that continues, he’ll be a safe bet to remain a starting cornerback for Ohio State in 2023, and those who have shared a secondary with Burke are confident he’ll prove he can play at an elite level this year.
“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches at Ohio State, and he has a different mindset coming into this year,” former Ohio State cornerback Cameron Brown said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He was put into the fire (as a freshman). He’s young, he had a great season and everything came right away, he had to just take off with it. But he's gonna be a great player. His potential’s off the charts. And I think that he's finally realized that he can do what he can do.”