Once again, Ohio State must replace a cornerback destined to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
It is such regular occurrence that no one bats an eye anymore, especially the position coach charged with replacing him.
When Taver Johnson was asked Wednesday how confident he was that the Buckeyes’ cornerbacks would flourish in 2018 without Denzel Ward, he didn’t hesitate.
“Very confident,” said Johnson, the cornerbacks coach under Jim Tressel who was re-hired after Kerry Coombs’ departure to the NFL. “From what I’ve seen — not just out here on the field but in the meeting room and the training room and the weight room — I’m very excited. I know we’ll be able to answer the bell.”
Under Coombs, the Buckeyes rotated three cornerbacks because of the necessity of keeping them fresh. Johnson intends to do the same.
Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield were in the rotation with Ward last year, and five-star recruit Jeffrey Okudah got some snaps as a true freshman. Okudah is limited to individual drills this spring after having shoulder surgery in January.
“It has definitely been hard, but at the same time I feel sometimes you have to take some steps back in order to go forward,” Okudah said. “I had that mentality dealing with this injury.”
He has played through the injury for so long that even he isn’t sure what to expect when he returns.
“I played with this injury senior year of high school, my junior year of high school and my freshman year at Ohio State,” Okudah said. “I’m kind of interested to see if there will be a change in performance now that I’m getting back to being fully healthy.
“I think it will definitely give a lot of confidence. You can go out and play knowing your body feels good.”
Arnette is a fiery player, and Johnson said he has had to tamp down some of that this spring.
“He is a feisty competitor,” he said. “A lot of times out here, I’ll have to calm him down so he doesn’t (figuratively) punch himself, which you appreciate because he cares so much. But he’s a guy we’re counting on big-time, not just because he has game experience. We need him for us to have a really good season.”
Sheffield, a former Alabama signee, arrived from junior college last year. He was inconsistent at times, but there is no doubting his ability, especially his speed. Sheffield joined the OSU track team and set the school record with a time of 6.63 seconds in the 60-meter dash.
“A bunch of us went when the track meet was here,” Johnson said. “I thought someone was chasing him with a knife or something.”
Sheffield has made his mark on the football field as well this spring, Okudah said.
“He has had about 10 forced fumbles,” he said. “He’s a guy that when the receivers see him coming, they all brace for impact.”
Johnson said he has not settled on who will be in his rotation. Several other players are in the mix, including Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson. The first year on campus for Wade — another five-star recruit — was ruined by an abdomen injury that required surgery in November.
Johnson’s predecessor was known for his effervescent personality. Johnson’s is infectious as well. He said he is thrilled to be a Buckeye again and is ready to uphold the OSU standard at his position.
His anticipation is matched by someone else in his family.
“My mom, every time I talk to her, she says, ‘I can’t wait. I can’t wait,’ ” Johnson said.