Jordan Hancock sees a silver lining in the hamstring injury that kept him out of the first six games of the 2022 season.
On one hand, the setback dashed what could have been a breakout campaign for the Ohio State cornerback, who received plenty of praise from the Buckeye coaching staff early in the offseason. On the other hand, it taught the Georgia native valuable lessons that he hopes will make his 2023 season even better than the previous year ever could have been.
“It was difficult, but it was really an eye-opening thing. Because maybe I needed to learn on stuff,” Hancock said in March. “Like really learn how to take care of my body and stuff like that. So me being injured really made me learn to grow. … From probably not getting the reps, (I didn’t have my usual) game speed, maybe missing some checks because I hadn’t been out there in so long, I've been in the meeting room. But now me being back and playing a couple of games last year made me kind of mature. I feel like I've matured a lot this year.”
Physically, Hancock has returned to form, and it showed all spring. The third-year defensive back looked stellar for much of the spring, and that was while handling most of the first-team reps at cornerback alongside Denzel Burke. Even when Hancock got on the field in 2022, he was playing catch-up. Now, he’s able to put his talent on full display.
“(The biggest difference is) probably my explosiveness. Last year I couldn't explode out like I wanted to because of my hamstring,” Hancock said. “But now having a full offseason, getting with Coach (Mickey Marotti), Coach (Tim Walton) teaching us a lot of stuff from the game, and probably my explosiveness I feel like I can change the game.”
But Hancock may have made more strides mentally since the end of last season. Given the defensive coaching staff overhaul last offseason and the implementation of Jim Knowles’ new complex scheme, a year largely spent on the sidelines gave Hancock extra time to soak in the finer details of the Ohio State defensive coordinator’s system.
As a result, Hancock feels more prepared schematically than he might have at any point last season.
“I can know why we run different types of defenses. And for instance, down and distance, why we run those plays. So definitely. … Maybe getting mental reps on the back pros, they do that all the time. So really trying to operate, maybe not having those games or game reps, but on the mental side, I feel like I've prepared for this year.”
Walton, who enters his second year as Ohio State’s cornerbacks and secondary coach, has seen a difference in Hancock, too. He knew Hancock’s true ability wouldn’t return overnight as he battled through last year’s injury, but said he saw his pupil blossom over the course of a spring schedule in which he was fully healthy.
“I want to be the best in America. I want this whole unit to be the best In America. That's what we stand on."– Jordan Hancock
“Things are coming back, man. He's getting into it. You know, we understand it takes time for you to come back from that kind of stuff,” Walton said. “But he's doing well, man. He's showing up, he's touching the ball, he's having fun, he's competing, he's straining. So we're pleased with his progress so far.”
But Hancock isn’t exactly out of the woods just yet. Although he's healthy, Hancock will still have some stiff competition to fend off to remain one of the Buckeyes’ top two corners by the start of the season.
Ohio State added Ole Miss transfer cornerback Davison Igbinosun to the roster over the offseason, and he wasted no time wowing coaches, media members and fans alike in his first spring with the Buckeyes. He might not have surpassed Hancock in first-team opportunities in his first few months in the program, but with a full preseason to come, it’s possible the 6-foot-2 DB will continue taking strides toward doing so.
“Glad we got him. He's a great worker, competitor. Long, can run, understands the game, passionate about playing,” Walton said about Igbinosun this spring. “So he'll be a great addition to us. … Before I got here, in the league, I had some tall guys in the league. But he's one of the guys that you liked his length and you liked his competitive nature. So that height will be a big factor on down-the-field routes.”
Walton said as long as Igbinosun “just keeps doing what he’s doing,” an opportunity to start in his first year with the Buckeyes isn’t out of the question.
“He's learning, he's putting the time in, he's competing. He has a passion for the game. He has a good skill set,” Walton said. “We just keep practicing and keep applying it, man. Then what we'll do, we'll evaluate it at the end of the summer when we get ready to start getting ready to go.”
As for how Hancock felt when he saw Ohio State land a transfer with SEC experience at his position, he said it will only push him to get better before the start of the season.
“I want to be the best in America. I want this whole unit to be the best In America. That's what we stand on,” Hancock said. “So bringing in Davison, he's a great kid, he's really good. So bringing him in really boosts all of us, and he pushes all of us. So I feel like that was a great change for us bringing him in. … He's a good teammate. Maybe we mess up on our technique, he will bring us in like, 'You messed up on this,' and why we did that and stuff like that. So he pushes us, he's a great teammate. I'm happy he's here.”
Hancock isn’t putting too much stock in the first-team reps he received this spring, either. He knows he’ll have to continue performing up to his potential throughout the coming months in order to earn the role he’s capable of. But Hancock isn’t backing down from that challenge.
“(Running with the ones) really doesn't mean anything right now, it's just competing and cheering on the guys and just having fun with my boys out there,” Hancock said. “So I mean, depth chart, I don't really want to harp on that or anything like that. But I just want to compete. That's all I want to do.”