He’s only been coaching for three years at Ohio State, but Taver Johnson knows a good thing when he sees it.
Last year, he had a great thing. With Malcolm Jenkins, Donald Washington and Chimdi Chekwa all in uniform, the cornerbacks coach had the ability to put what he felt were three above-average cornerbacks on the field at the same time.
“That’s the first team I’ve been on where we’ve had three legitimate corners who can cover anybody,” Johnson said. “That’s definitely a bonus.”
The question for Johnson now is whether or not he will find himself in a similar situation this season. Gone are Jenkins and Washington, leaving Chekwa as the only returning option in the secondary – and he didn’t technically play a full season.
Although Chekwa started 12 of the team’s 13 games at boundary corner, he found himself splitting time with Washington while the latter player worked himself back into the good graces of the coaching staff after missing the first two games of the year due to suspension. He returned for the USC game and saw just six minutes of playing time to Chekwa’s 22.
In all, Chekwa saw 235 minutes of playing time while Washington saw 142. Minus the first three games of the year, Chekwa averaged 17.8 minutes of playing time and Washington averaged 13.6.
Chekwa finished the year with 30 tackles, four pass breakups and one interception. Washington had 22 tackles, one interception, one pass breakup and one fumble recovery.
This year, if the Buckeyes hope to be able to put three cornerbacks on the field, those hopes will start with Chekwa continuing to grow into becoming a standout corner.
“I have to step into the leadership position a little bit,” he said. “It’s different but you’ve seen it happen. I saw it happen with Malcolm and Donald last year. You just mimic what they did last year and add your own personal stuff.”
Although Chekwa was projected as the backup until Washington was suspended, Johnson said he probably would have found his way into the lineup on a consistent basis anyway.
The Buckeyes would put three cornerbacks on the field at the same time primarily while in their dime defense for obvious passing situations. In the nickel, the OSU coaches would use either Jermale Hines or Tyler Moeller to man the team’s “star” position – a hybrid linebacker/safety spot that can help provide run support. The ability to put three cornerbacks on the field at once gave the coaches the freedom to play more man-to-man defense while applying more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“It gave us a better ability to get after the quarterback and play man to man because we had three guys we could lock up and match with receivers,” Chekwa said. “I think our cornerbacks are playing as good as we did last year in man-to-man coverage.”
It was not the first time the Buckeyes have put three cornerbacks on the field at the same time in recent years. Two seasons ago, the coaches would move Jenkins to safety while having Chekwa play alongside Washington at the corner spots in obvious passing situations.
That helped Chekwa earn some important experience to the tune of 185 minutes and his first career start.
“He played every game when Malcolm was going back to safety,” Johnson said. “We were playing with three corners then that a lot of people forget about. He’s played a lot of football.”
Opposite of Chekwa, a battle is being waged to be the other starter that will likely go all the way up until the beginning of the season. There, senior Andre Amos will have the first chance to take the spot while he is pushed by junior Devon Torrence and redshirt freshman Travis Howard.
“They’re competing real hard,” Chekwa said. “It’s not going to be easy to decide who goes in that spot. I think we’re probably going to have to rotate this year.”
The hope for Johnson is to have a number of options as he draws up his plans for the fall.
“It’s a great problem to have,” he said. “Any time we have choices in life is pretty good.”