Ohio State football’s recent opt-outs create opportunities for backups
Ohio State has seen an exodus of top talent in recent days, losing two preseason All-Americans as uncertainty lingers over when a postponed football season by the Big Ten could be played.
The first to declare for the NFL draft was right guard Wyatt Davis on Friday, followed three days later by cornerback Shaun Wade.
If a decision is made to restart a season this fall or in early 2021, the Buckeyes will be in search of replacements for both opt-outs.
The candidates involve a mix of promising underclassmen or more experienced backups, beginning on the offensive side.
Matthew Jones was the backup behind Davis at right guard by the end of last season and looked as if he would have an opportunity to start elsewhere on the offensive line during the early days of spring practice in March.
A redshirt sophomore, Jones was seen splitting first-team reps with Harry Miller at left guard during workouts that were open to media members.
It could be the right time for him to position himself as a starter, following career arcs of other Buckeyes offensive linemen. Both center Josh Myers and Davis stepped into the starting lineup in their third seasons last fall. Nicholas Petit-Frere looks ready to take over at right tackle as a third-year sophomore, too.
Jones was a decorated recruit coming out of high school in Brooklyn, New York, ranked as a top-100 overall prospect and the fourth-best interior offensive lineman (guards and centers), according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Ohio State could turn to Gavin Cupp, who presents the most experienced fill-in as a fifth-year senior.
Backing up both left guard Jonah Jackson and Davis last season, Cupp logged 174 snaps — a little more playing time than Jones, who was on the field for 114 snaps.
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa considered Cupp to be in the mix for the left guard spot vacated by Jackson when he spoke to reporters in the spring, before the remainder of practices were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.
So, like Jones, he was already viewed as a possible starter, just one who came in without the recruiting profile to match Jones. A native of Leipsic in northwest Ohio, Cupp was rated a three-star recruit.
Count redshirt freshman Enokk Vimahi as a candidate, as well, after he held off starting a two-year Mormon mission to stay in Columbus.
The challenge of replacing Wade is particularly significant.
He was the lone returning starter in the secondary and expected to be Ohio State’s top cover corner, matching up on an opponent’s best wide receiver.
His departure leaves juniors Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown, as well as senior Marcus Williamson, as potential fill-ins for the role.
Banks is the only one of the trio with starting experience, having stepped in for Damon Arnette for a blowout win at Rutgers late last season. Brown gained some valuable experience when he came on during the first half of the Big Ten championship game, replacing Jeff Okudah when he was sidelined to be evaluated for a concussion.
Whoever takes over should benefit from the experience of new defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day considers it a bonus that Coombs will also coach the defensive backs.
During a radio appearance on WBNS-FM (97.1) on Monday night, Day spoke about Wade’s departure and the role Coombs would play in bringing along a secondary he described as brand new.
“He has great experience at all levels,” Day said. “His energy is off the charts, but it’s also his expertise on how to train secondary players, then also bring them along maturity-wise so they can step into a situation and perform.”
Potentially the most talented cornerback waiting in the wings is Tyreke Johnson, who is less experienced than the other candidates and was not on the two-deep depth chart a year ago, but offers promise nonetheless.
He was a former five-star recruit who was the third-highest-rated prospect in the Buckeyes' decorated 2018 class, another candidate who will garner a look if they are cleared to begin preparations for a season of some kind.