But the player that has really been a pleasant surprise is redshirt freshman corner Donald Washington. He hasn't done anything spectacular, but he's been more than solid in all areas.
"He sure has," OSU cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman said. "Donald and Andre (Amos) are two freshmen that we were counting on to step in and to help us out. He's done an outstanding job and I'm proud of him. He studies the film endlessly and he's shown that on the football field. He's playing well."
Beckman outlined exactly what makes Washington such a good corner just seven games into his college career.
"He's very athletic," Beckman said. "He was a great track star in high school, and basketball. He can run and jump. I think Malcolm has got the smarts and he's very mature for his age and Donald is reaching that now with more and more reps that he's getting."
A lot of credit for how well the secondary is playing has to go to Beckman. The second-year OSU coach and former defensive coordinator at Bowling Green brings a lot of expertise to the table.
And he couldn't be happier with the way his corners are playing right now. He has to remind himself sometimes how young they are. Yes, corner/safety Antonio Smith is a fifth-year senior, but OSU is also playing one sophomore and three freshmen at corner.
"I've very proud of them," Beckman said. "And it's not just what they do on the field, but what they're doing off the field too because they do things right. I'm very proud of them with how hard they play and how well they take to coaching. It's been a pleasure coaching those guys."
Top-ranked Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) will host Indiana (4-3, 2-1) on Saturday (noon, ESPN U). It's especially a big game for Washington who hails from Indianapolis, Ind.
"Sure. No question," Beckman said. "Getting a chance to play against his home state team, whether it be Indiana, Purdue or Notre Dame, would be something big for Donald. So, I know he's trying to get himself better and he's really excited about this game."
Jenkins (6-1, 202) and Washington (6-1, 195) are NFL-sized cornerbacks. Jenkins is the more physical of the two, but Washington doesn't mind sticking his head in there on run support. Amos is also a big corner at 6-1, 185, and Kurt Coleman is a big hitter with speed at 5-11, 185.
The best compliment you could give Beckman about the corners is that they are physical. Yes, he wants them to be lockdown corners. But he also wants to see them smack players in the mouth.
"We work on it," Beckman said. "We take pride in being a physical group. We're not just coverage corners; we are going to hit you too. We have three outstanding corners (Jenkins, Washington, Amos) in my opinion that are young, that are learning, that are eager. They are physical football players and they can run. We're blessed to have those guys."
And the only reason Coleman isn't playing more this year is because he is a true freshman and is still learning the cornerback position (safety/wide receiver in high school). He is ahead of where Washington and Amos were at this time last year, but behind where they are right now.
But Coleman has found his niche on the squad this year. He is a special teams demon.
"No question. And that's what Kurt has done from the first day of two-a-days and even back to spring ball," Beckman said. "We've used him as a starter on field goal block because he's got a knack for that. It's not just the coaching that we're teaching him off the edge, he has a knack for it. They're all getting coached the same way, but he does it.
"And that's why we've moved Kurt right now to our star position, our nickel, so he can learn that position, and we don't give him too much, and he can learn that position and be ready to play."
With Coleman likely playing more nickelback in the coming weeks, does that mean Smith will be playing less, or playing more corner?
"Well, Washington really moves to the corner," Beckman said. "Antonio plays the star, and he's our star. But Anderson (Russell) was a guy that did some of that for us too and now he's not there, so we kind of had to force-feed Kurt into learning that a little bit and we've used Malcolm in there a little bit too."
Beckman explained that "star" and "nickelback" are interchangeable terms.
"He's our nickelback. We just call it a star," he said. "He replaces one of the outside linebackers so you can play a little bit more man and not put a linebacker in a situation on a wide receiver where he's not comfortable."
And Beckman says that the Buckeyes rarely run true "dime" packages with six defensive backs on the field. Dime for OSU means a 3-3-5 look.
"Dime for us is basically substituting a linebacker for a defensive lineman," Beckman said. "So, instead of being in a 4-2 defense, we're in a 3-3 defense. It goes back to (linebackers coach Luke) Fickell and (defensive coordinator Jim) Heacock doing a great job of keeping it simple so our guys can go full speed. And that's why we've been successful doing that stuff."
Beckman and safeties coach Paul Haynes work together in running the secondary. Beckman of course spends most of his time working with the corners, but he has plenty of input when it comes to the safeties, as does Haynes with the corners.
Beckman thought that Russell, the redshirt freshman from Georgia, was on his way to a big year at free safety before suffering a torn ACL at Iowa. But one of the players that will need to step up in Russell's absence is true freshman Aaron Gant. He was expected to redshirt, but was thrust into action last week.
"Yeah, he just gets better every time he steps on the field," Beckman said. "He's a young kid like the Kurt Colemans of the world and the Chimdi Chekwas and all the guys in the secondary. He is progressing good and we just keep on hoping good things out of him. He kind of got pushed into the mix real quick because of Anderson's knee and we had to get Aaron ready to play."
Russell underwent surgery on Wednesday.
"It went real good," Beckman said. "In fact, Coach Haynes is going over there right now and we've heard that the surgery was a success."
When asked if there was any chance of Russell coming back for a bowl game, Beckman said: "No. We're going to get him ready for spring ball."
Beckman has a history of matching wits with Indiana head coach and former Miami University head coach Terry Hoeppner going back to their Mid-American Conference days.
"Coach Hoepp has done a great job and all of his teams going back to when he was with the Redhawks have done a great job," Beckman said. "Very sound, very well coached. They have a new quarterback (redshirt freshman Kellen Lewis) that has come in that we didn't see last year that is doing a great job. They've got a bunch of skilled wide receivers and they took one of them (sophomore Marcus Thigpen) and moved him to running back. They are playing on a high right now, I would definitely say. They are playing confident and they look like a different football team and it's great that Hoepp is back on the sidelines for them."
From watching film, Beckman has noticed a few similarities in the Hoosiers' offense and the old Miami offenses.
"A little bit," he said. "Ben (Roethlisberger) was there when we played against them, so they did a lot of things with Ben. But you do see some similarities with what they did at Miami. Having played against Coach Hoepp for five years helps you prepare for things that you've seen before.
"They run a lot of spread. Four receivers in the game, sometimes five, and no backs. All shotgun. We're going to see a lot of that basketball on the football field type of stuff – get the ball out quick and get it downfield."
Daniels Doesn't Miss A Beat
Hoeppner has battled brain cancer over the last year and no one can empathize with his situation better than OSU quarterbacks Joe Daniels who has battled stomach cancer. Daniels feels like he can relate to Hoeppner.
"Yeah, very much," he said. "I try and keep on top of that situation. Just things a year ago I might have been concerned, but not quite as much as I am now. But it's good that he seems to be doing well."
Daniels continues to fight the good fight and hasn't missed a day of practice due to illness.
"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling pretty good," Daniels said. "I go home a little bit earlier, so I only work about 14 hours a day. I'm slacking off a little bit. But no, I think the normal wear and tear of the season, and to be honest with you not having an open date has a little bit of an effect too. But thank goodness, I feel good. How do I look?"
(The coach looks good.)
The Buckeyes could have their way with a young Indiana defense on Saturday, but Daniels sees a much-improved unit.
"I'm more concerned about the secondary, and number 9, (Tracy) Porter, he's pretty good," he said. "They use him a lot. I will be interested to find out where they put him. Will they put him on Teddy (Ginn) or all over? I don't know. But he's a pretty good corner."
Indiana has traditionally used a two-deep zone defense, but the Hoosiers have been mixing it up more than usual this year. (Maybe because they finally have a head coach who knows what he's doing?)
"They are doing a little bit more man," Daniels said. "I think they feel good about themselves and are doing a little bit more man than the past few years. And I think that's probably an indication of where they think they've come. Really what they're doing now is they are back to playing very sound defense. They are back to their base stuff and they are doing it well."
But with OSU quarterback Troy Smith at the helm, it probably won't matter what defense the Hoosiers throw at the Buckeyes. Daniels has been singing Smith's praises for over a year and he still thinks his best attribute might be his ability to keep plays alive.
"Well, we work that drill a lot," Daniels joked. "No, it's his athletic ability and his body quickness and control. The thing that I've said so many times is that he has all that ability and he now understands that he uses it to buy time to throw the football. Versus maybe two years ago he was going to do that, move, but he was going to run. That was it, he was going to run. But his ability to keep the play alive is just amazing to me.
"He does things that you guys say wow and I say wow when I'm in the press box. It's just an amazing feel that he has. He has great presence in the pocket. He senses where the rush is coming from."