Freshmen Ohio State cornerbacks Brown and Johnson proved up to task
Ohio State cornerbacks coach Tim Walton coached in the NFL since 2009 before returning to his alma mater this year.
In the pros, he coached grown men with years of experience. On Saturday against Wisconsin, Walton had to press into service two freshmen because of injuries to starters Denzel Burke and Cam Brown. Neither Walton nor the freshmen – Jyaire Brown and JK Johnson – were fazed.
It helped that the Badgers are not the kind of team that lights it up through the air. The same goes for Saturday’s opponent, Rutgers, which had to play a third-string quarterback in a 27-10 loss to Iowa in its Big Ten opener.
But Walton and the young cornerbacks handled the situation heading into the Wisconsin game with aplomb.
“I'll give a lot of credit to Tim Walton and (defensive coordinator) Jim (Knowles) for getting those guys ready,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “And then for Jyaire and JK to step up the way they did, I'm very proud of them.”
The No. 3 Buckeyes (4-0) have just six scholarship cornerbacks. Cam Brown, a senior, is the only one who has been on campus for more than two years.
He and Denzel Burke missed time in the spring and training camp with injuries, which allowed Johnson and Jyaire Brown to get more reps. Johnson is a redshirt freshman. Brown enrolled in January.
Covering Ohio State’s standout receivers every day in practice force-fed the growth process.
“I don't think they missed a practice between the two of them,” Day said. “The only way to get better is to practice, and they did. So when we went to put them in the game, the whole team believed in them, because they saw it in practice. We knew it wasn't going to be perfect, but they played very well, and they're both very talented.”
Day said he expects Cam Brown and Denzel Burke to be available for Burke. Jordan Hancock, the top backup entering the season, is expected to miss at least another week.
Walton, who played for OSU in the early 1990s, may not be coaching 18-year-olds instead of NFL veterans, but he said he tutors them similarly.
“I try to hold them to the same standard because of the guys that come here, they want to go to the NFL,” Walton said. “I coach and teach them the same (in terms of) learning the game and the details of the game.
“Obviously, it’s a little slower with some guys because they’re learning. But we try to push that envelope with understanding football and the high IQ level, being able to apply the schemes and the systems and seeing how offenses are trying to attack us.”
Walton said he didn’t know until late last week that he’d be without his starters.
“I go in with the approach of having everybody ready because you have to control the controllables,” he said. “We really emphasize everybody trying to be ready. We’re kicking it off on Saturday regardless, so we have to be ready. If you prepare them and show confidence in them and those guys know you believe in them, they’ll give you their best.”
Brown and Jackson had quiet games, which is a compliment. Brown had a third-down pass break. He also was flagged for pass interference, even though he was not covering the intended receiver, a call about which Day was livid.
“Now they’ve got that first start under their belt in a huge environment,” Day said. “I think about the first start for a lot of guys. It’s hectic. It’s a lot of emotion. It’s crazy. It’s exhausting. But now they move on and get past that and focus on getting better.”
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Rutgers at Ohio State
When: 3:30 p.m. SaturdayTV: Big Ten NetworkRadio: 97.1 FM/1460 AM
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