Ohio State football cornerback depth a top-three concern for Ryan Day

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State cornerback Jordan Hancock did not participate in practice Thursday due to an undisclosed injury.

But coach Ryan Day said Hancock and other banged-up cornerbacks, including Ryan Turner, are not expected to be out for the long-term, indicating they were largely dealing with bumps and bruises.

Their absence has made depth at cornerback one of the top-three concerns for Day a week into preseason training camp.

“We need to make sure we’re building depth there,” Day said. “And we certainly have some candidates.”

The Buckeyes were low on numbers at the position prior to the start of preseason camp, beginning with only six scholarship cornerbacks.

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In addition to the injuries that emerged in recent days, Cameron Brown is also getting limited reps.

Day termed it as a “pitch count” for the fifth-year cornerback who is a projected starter and sounded optimistic he would soon be a full participant.

Brown has an injury history that includes missing most of 2020 because of a torn Achilles tendon and a handful of games last fall. Day also referenced Brown underwent a more recent procedure, though he didn’t specify the cause for it.

“When you come back from a procedure, you want to make sure that, first off, they’re healthy enough to do it,” Day said. “Even if they are healthy, you have to make sure you bring them back the right way. You can’t just throw them in there. All of a sudden, something else will show up.

“It’s a combination of making sure you’re covered, but then also making sure you’re building off the right way.”

Brown went through a team period late in practice Thursday and was paired opposite Denzel Burke, the other returning starter at cornerback, with the first-team defense.

But when he was out in a 7-on-7 drill a few periods earlier, redshirt freshman JK Johnson took his spot.

Cameron Martinez, who is cross-training at cornerback alongside Jantzen Dunn in order to compensate for the depth issues, primarily practiced with the safeties, lining up in the slot. Dunn was limited.

Day said they remain options at corner.

“They both have cover skills, and the position they play, they have to do a lot of covering,” he said. “So every time they’re out there, they’re learning that skill, of playing man-to-man and covering guys. That says a lot about their skillset.”

Buckeyes offensive tackle depth

Josh Fryar and Zen Michalski are “working really hard” to become the Buckeyes’ third offensive tackle, potentially stepping in at left or right tackle in case of injuries, Day said.

Over the first week of preseason camp, both have gotten second-team reps with Michalski, a redshirt freshman, at left tackle, and Fryar, a redshirt sophomore, at right tackle.

“Both of those guys are working every day,” Day said, “and that’s the goal for both of those guys.”

Fryar was limited in spring practice while repairing a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered late last season at Michigan. He said earlier this week that the rehab took about eighth months.

Ohio State’s second-team offensive line has also included Jakob James at center with Enokk Vimahi at left guard and Ben Christman at right guard.

Aug 11, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes safety Sonny Styles (20) rushes Ohio State Buckeyes punter Michael O'Shaughnessy (96) during football camp at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State football freshman impression

Safety Sonny Styles, who graduated a year early from Pickerington Central to enroll at Ohio State, has made a quick impression on Day.

“For somebody who’s supposed to be in high school, he’s looked darn good,” Day said.

Styles, who was ranked as a five-star recruit, saw third-team reps with the defense during some of the late practice periods Thursday.

“The opportunities he's had to compete, he's shown that he's got toughness,” Day said. “And his ability to get coached, he's getting coached pretty hard, he takes it and works to get better. He’s got a great look in his eye, and he’s off to a wonderful start.

Receiver rotation

Julian Fleming saw first-team reps at wide receiver opposite Marvin Harrison Jr. in a team period late in Thursday’s practice.

Day hinted at the likelihood of a deeper rotation at receiver this season without Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

In addition to Fleming and Harrison, who started in the Rose Bowl to end last season, Emeka Egbuka is also competing for a starting spot.

Aug 5, 2022; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Julian Fleming (4) and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) during practice at Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus, Ohio on August 5, 2022.

Punt returning

Freshman wide receiver Kaleb Brown is in the mix to return punts alongside Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Cameron Martinez and Egbuka.

Wilson was the primary punt returner for the Buckeyes last season, while Smith-Njigba also returned some as well.

Day said Brown, who was the Buckeyes’ top-ranked receiver recruit in the 2022 class, has the skillset to be a returner.

Status of Parker Lewis

Day didn’t have an update Thursday on the status of USC transfer kicker Parker Lewis, who is still waiting to be cleared for eligibility by the NCAA and has not been seen at practice.

The timeline for the issue to be settled remains unclear.

“Hoping soon,” Day said, “but I haven’t heard anything.”

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at jkaufman@dispatch.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.