Ohio State's Marcus Williamson looks like a good fit at slot cornerback
Ohio State will not have to replace cornerback Shaun Wade for the coming season after he opted back in last week.
But it will need to find someone to fill the spot he formerly manned on the field.
Wade was the slot cornerback for the Buckeyes last fall, a position he vacates as he slides over in the secondary to outside corner.
A month of preseason practices remain before Ohio State opens on Oct. 24 against Nebraska, but senior Marcus Williamson has been the most experienced defensive back to see reps in the slot, looking like an early favorite to emerge at the top of the depth chart.
Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs considers it a good fit.
“It's a matchup business, right?” he said.
Williamson is smaller than some of the Buckeyes' typical taller, lankier cornerbacks; he is listed on the roster at 5 feet 10, a height that closely mirrors many of the slot receivers he will likely cover.
“A slot corner is going to major in short-space quickness,” Coombs said, “whereas the long corner on the outside is going to probably have a little bit more long speed and have some length at the line of scrimmage in press man-to-man against taller wide receivers. And so that that's been, to me, an easy transition for Marcus, and I have a comfort level with that.”
Freshmen Ronnie Hickman, who redshirted last fall, and Cameron Martinez, who enrolled in the summer, are two others who have worked in the slot in recent practices. Martinez is also 5-10.
But Coombs expressed particular comfort with Williamson after recruiting him out of high school when he was in his first stint as an assistant with the Buckeyes. Williamson played at Westerville South before moving to Florida to play his senior season at IMG Academy.
“I've always found him to be a thoughtful, intelligent player who plays really, really hard,” Coombs said. “I think he's had an extraordinary offseason. I think he's playing really well right now. I'm excited to watch him continue to grow and compete as the season goes forward.”
Williamson has been a reserve throughout his college career but felt as if the time spent within the program prepared him for a bigger role.
“I've had a lot of coaching, a lot of different coaches,” he said. “And I think I've been able to bring a lot of that football knowledge to the position, along with my personal skill set.”
It has not been unusual for Ohio State’s players to blossom later in their careers.
Some were caught in a logjam on the depth chart as underclassmen and were unable to find a pathway toward the field. Others were hampered by injuries.
It has been some of both for Williamson, who missed most of his sophomore season in 2018 with an undisclosed injury. But he is aware of the career arcs of some of the other Buckeyes.
He pointed to wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and linebacker Justin Hilliard. Knee injuries saddled Dixon before he became one of the team’s leaders in receptions and a captain. Hilliard dealt with an Achilles injury and biceps injuries before cracking the rotation last season. He was named a captain this fall for his sixth season.
“Luckily I haven't had these major injuries, like Achilles and knee,” Williamson said, “but I've had my struggles, and having this year, this extra year, it's given me a new life. I'm so ready to help this team and help us win.
“Now that I've stepped into a leadership role, I love this team so much, and I just want to do whatever we can to win. I'm ready for week one. We've done a lot of waiting, I've done a lot of waiting, and I think we're ready as a team.”