Shaun Wade looks to tighten coverage in Ohio State secondary

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Shaun Wade (24), here defending Rutgers receiver Bo Melton last week, is working through a learning curve as he adjusts to outside cornerback from slot corner, his position last season.

When Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade reviews this season's game film, he notices a bad habit.

It occurs in pass coverage, when he is defending an opposing receiver and the ball is in the air. He finds himself tempted by the possibility for a big play.

“I’ve been trying to go for the interception too much sometimes,” Wade said. “That’s what happens when you get greedy.”

Some of the attempts have backfired. The latest came in the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes’ 49-27 win over Rutgers last Saturday.

Wade was matched up on Jovani Haskins, a tight end for the Scarlet Knights. When a pass reached the back corner of the end zone, both of them leapt in order to grab the ball; Haskins came down with it.

All Wade was left to do was hope the ball was bobbled or dropped. He glanced at an official and waved his arms in opposite directions as if the pass was incomplete. But the side judge raised his arms upright to signal a 6-yard touchdown.

Over the past two weeks, Wade has given up three touchdown passes while in coverage, including two in a Nov. 7 win at Penn State when he faced Jahan Dotson, the Nittany Lions’ top receiver.

It has been an unexpected trend for Wade, who is considered a potential first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft and an All-American candidate. Jeff Okudah, who was the Buckeyes’ top cover cornerback and ultimately the third overall selection in the draft, allowed only one touchdown all season, according to data collected by Pro Football Focus.

Wade believes he will bounce back by focusing more on breaking up passes rather than intercepting them.

Had he caused an incompletion against Haskins on Saturday instead of allowing a touchdown, it would forced Rutgers into a third-down play.

“I could have just broke the ball up, because I was there,” Wade said.

But he also noted that his body positioning also could improve, especially as he recalled that sequence.

“When I jumped, I faded back,” Wade said. “My body took me back instead of jumping into the player, where we would both fight over the ball. We both kind of had the ball, and he was a tight end. Tight ends are stronger than DBs. Eventually he was probably going to take the ball away from me.

“But if I jump into, it distracts him. I hit him, we make body contact. We didn’t make body contact. We both just had hand contact on the ball.”

Some of the jump-ball situations are more common now for Wade.

Last fall, he lined up as the Buckeyes’ slot corner and covered receivers who often ran shorter routes in which the football wasn’t hanging in the air for a long time.

It required quick instincts to close in on the short passes, with less jockeying for position on deep throws that have become frequent this season.

“The biggest challenge is the distance from the ball,” Wade said. “Everything is farther from the slot.”

To help ease with the transition, Wade said he has reviewed film of Okudah, as well as Damon Arnette, who was the outside corner opposite Okudah last season and also a first-round pick in April.

Despite some matchups that did not tilt in his direction, Wade said his confidence is not shaken, and he’s particularly pleased the Buckeyes are unbeaten. But he sees room for improvement and hopes to shore up some of his previous issues in coverage.

“You're going to be disappointed when you want to be great,” Wade said. “So at the end of the day, I'm always going to be disappointed. Even when I have a good game, I'm going to know one play that I know I could have done better at. I just want to get better. That's all I care about. Me getting better and this team getting better.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman