With plenty of talent at the top, Ohio State’s defensive backfield makes up one of the strongest position groups on the team, but a lack of depth is starting to take its tole on two phases of the game.
At cornerback, the Buckeyes have redshirt freshman Marshon Lattimore and freshman Denzel Ward backing up sophomores Eli Apple and Gareon Conley. Ward wasn’t on the two-deep to start the year, but he’s been thrust into more playing time since sophomore Damon Webb was suspended indefinitely.
At safety, Ohio State still has two juniors who are returning starters in Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell, but each of their primary backups — Cam Burrows and Erick Smith — are out through injury. That leaves redshirt freshman Malik Hooker and walk on junior Jarrod Barnes as the only backup safeties listed on the depth chart.
Beyond them, Ohio State doesn’t have a scholarship safety on the roster, while Eric Glover-Williams is the only other scholarship cornerback to receive playing time this season.
Not only does that leave the Buckeyes thin on defense if a starter were to be injured, but the problem leaks over to special teams where Burrows and Erick Smith were key players, along with wide receiver Corey Smith who is out for the season and receiver Parris Campbell, who head coach Urban Meyer said would miss Saturday’s game against Penn State.
With Barnes now likely to have a role to play on Saturdays, Meyer said he’s simply glad to have the Louisville transfer in Columbus.
Beyond that, the fourth-year Ohio State coach said he may have to turn to true freshmen who have yet to play in a game for help on special teams.
“Jerome Baker will play,” Meyer said of the freshman linebacker from Cleveland. “I plan on starting him on kickoff. And (receiver) K.J. Hill is another one that’s close.”
During his Wednesday press conference Meyer noted that kick coverage has been a strength for Ohio State, but with the numbers dwindling through repeated injuries and Webb’s suspension the Buckeyes will have to see if more fresh faces can do the trick against Penn State.