Secondary a primary concern for Bucks

By Rusty Miller The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The rebuilding job facing Ohio State’s defensive coaches has only been tackled twice in the last 40 years.

That’s how often the Buckeyes have entered a season after losing their entire starting secondary.

“No, there’s not a guy back there like (Ashton) Youboty or (Donte) Whitner or (Nate) Salley,” said cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman, mentioning three of last year’s starters. “The kids are going to have to grow up quick, there’s no question about it.”

Seniors Salley, the free safety, and Tyler Everett, the right corner, played their final game in a 34-20 Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame on Jan. 2. In the weeks that followed, strong safety Whitner and left corner Youboty elected to forego their final year at Ohio State to make themselves available for the NFL draft later this month.

The only returning Buckeyes with substantial playing time in the secondary are Malcolm Jenkins, who started four games, and nickel back Brandon Mitchell. They will be joined by a pack of eager but green players.

Jenkins accepts that now is his time to shine.

“I was talking to my mother the other day and she told me my biological clock is ticking,” he said with a laugh.

No one around the program is putting down the returnees.

“Everybody talks about all the speed we’ve lost, but I think we’re a fast football team,” safeties coach Paul Haynes said. “The thing about these guys is they’re young, they’re hungry, and they want to improve. They want to be on the level those guys (last year’s starters) are on.”

It’s still 4 1/2 months until the Buckeyes have to make decisions about who will start. Based on the way things have gone so far this spring, Jenkins would fill one corner spot opposite the seldom-used Antonio Smith. Backing them are Kurt Coleman, Donald Washington, Brandon Underwood, Mike Roberts, Andre Amos and Sirjo Welsh.

On the inside track at safety are Jamario O’Neal and Nick Patterson, followed by Mitchell and Anderson Russell. Devon Lyons has been injured but likely will challenge for playing time once he is healthy.

About the only people familiar with those names are the coaches who recruited them. Coleman is a true freshman, while Washington, Russell and Amos are redshirt freshmen; Jenkins, Patterson, O’Neal and Underwood are sophomores; Welsh and Lyons are juniors; and Roberts, Mitchell and Smith are fifth-year seniors who have hung around the program long enough to finally get their shots.

Smith said it doesn’t upset him when people say Ohio State’s defense – which lost all its starters from the bowl game except for two linemen – will need a lot of time to develop.

“It doesn’t matter. Those players were great players but they’re gone,” he said. “We’ve got to look forward. We’re the future now.”