Post-Signing Day Big Board: DBs, Kickers

We are back with the fourth installment of our weeklong series, The Big Board. This is a position-by-position look at Ohio State football. Today, we look at the personnel in the fold, those on the way and recruiting possibilities in the secondary and at the kick specialist positions. At corner, sophomore-to-be Malcolm Jenkins figures to be in the mix this spring.

We are back with the fourth installment of the post-signing day edition of The Big Board, my position-by-position look at the Ohio State football team.

We opened this five-part series Tuesday with a look at the offensive backs and receivers. We continued Wednesday with the tight ends and offensive line.

Then, on Thursday we looked inside the huddle on the defensive line and at linebacker.

Today, we will examine the secondary and specialists.

Finally, in an upcoming segment, we will tie all of this data together.

Here is a post-signing day position-by-position look at OSU's scholarship status and prospects in the defensive backfield and kick specialist positions with returning players listed by seniority. Walk-ons listed from the bowl roster.

(All class designations are 2006 eligibility; returning starters marked with an asterisk.)

Cornerback

* Departed Seniors (2): Tyler Everett, Ashton Youboty (junior eligible for NFL draft).

* In The Fold (5): Michael Roberts (Sr.), Sirjo Welch (Jr.), Brandon Underwood (So.), Malcolm Jenkins (So.), Andre Amos (R-Fr.).

* Walk-On (1): DeAngelo Haslem (So.).

* New This Spring (1): Kurt Coleman.

* New This Fall (1): Chimdi Chekwa.

* Analysis: With Everett and Youboty moving on, the Buckeyes will be auditioning candidates at both cornerback spots this spring.

Obviously, it looks good for Jenkins (6-1, 180), who came in last fall from New Jersey and made an immediate splash as the nickel back and as a starter when Everett was out. Jenkins is OSU's top returning tackler. He started six of the 12 games and had 37 tackles and two pass break-ups. Jenkins capped his year with nine tackles against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

"For a few games, he was an every down player this past year," said departing safety Donte Whitner. "We know he can handle it. With a year under his belt and going through spring ball and winter conditioning and another camp, he can be a great corner next year."

The other spot will be wide open.

Welch (6-0, 185) could get a look at corner or safety in the spring. He made his name as a special teams player as a freshman in 2004. But he was in and out of the dog house in 2005. He played in eight games and logged five tackles.

Roberts (5-11, 185) could also get a look. He will be a fifth-year senior in 2006, although his playing time has been minimal to date.

Underwood (6-2, 170) is tabbed by many as a bigger version of his brother, E.J. Underwood. He missed spring practice as he mended a shoulder injury and then played in two games, logging three tackles, in 2005.

"We need guys like Sirjo Welsh and Brandon Underwood to step up so we have the kind of depth that we need and our depth isn't completely true freshmen," said OSU head coach Jim Tressel. "We need eight to 10 guys back there who can contribute. That's why this spring is so crucial."

Amos (6-1, 180) came in last fall from Middletown, Ohio, and redshirted this past fall. He is another big corner who should factor heavily in the competition this spring.

Coleman (5-11, 185) was ranked as one of Ohio's top 10 prospects as well as one of the nation's top corner prospects. He had 92 tackles and three interceptions as a prep senior at Clayton (Ohio) Northmont after tallying 10 interceptions as a junior.

Chekwa (6-1, 180) will arrive in the fall. As a senior at Clermont (Fla.) East Ridge, he had 44 tackles and seven interceptions. He is one more big corner prospect who could get a serious look in the fall.

We mentioned Shaun Lane, a sophomore, with the tailbacks. But there was a chance he could also rep on defense this spring to add to the depth at corner.

It is also possible that Ted Ginn Jr. and incoming freshman Ray Small could help out on defense as needed in the fall.

* Still Looking: You can never have enough fast guys who can cover, so it is my bet that OSU will try and sign one or more corners again in 2007.

The Buckeyes already have offers pending to a couple of players: Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne's Donnie Evege and Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside's Eric Berry. Evege (5-11, 185) ran a reported sub-4.4 40-yard time at OSU's camp. Berry (5-11, 181) is also a burner in the 4.4 range.

Canton (Ohio) South's Devon Torrence (6-1, 190) could also merit a strong look. Torrence is a multi-talented athlete who could play offense, defense and return kicks at the college level. OSU was possibly waiting on Torrence to take a college entrance exam before offering. He may also be a strong prospect for the 2007 Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Safety

* Departed Seniors (2): Nate Salley, Donte Whitner (junior eligible for NFL draft).

* In The Fold (7): Brandon Mitchell (Sr.), Curt Lukens (Jr.), Nick Patterson (So.), Jamario O'Neal (So.), Devon Lyons (So.), Anderson Russell (R-Fr.), Donald Washington (R-Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (2): Antonio Smith (Sr.), Michael Dougherty (So.).

* New This Fall (2):Aaron Gant, Grant Schwartz.

* Verbal For 2007 (1): Nate Oliver.

* Analysis: Salley and Whitner were cornerstones on defense the last three years and will definitely be missed. But Tressel, in assessing the entire secondary, was optimistic.

"Even though we are losing a lot there, I like to think we have the makings," Tressel said. "Defense is about attitude and we have to develop that attitude.

"Malcolm Jenkins and Brandon Mitchell have played a lot. We feel like some of those young safeties and corners who have been waiting in the wings should be ready to go. You have Nick Patterson and Devon Lyons, who got moved over from receiver. You also have Donald Washington, Andre Amos and Mike Roberts."

Mitchell (6-3, 205) is one of the biggest hitters and best tacklers on the team. He has played in 33 games, starting eight in his career. He split time with Jenkins as the nickel back in 2005. He had 12 tackles as a junior. Even though he has one year of eligibility left, Mitchell has already received his bachelor's degree. He was in graduate school this year. At this rate, he could have his Ph. D. by the time he leaves.

O'Neal (6-1, 180) could be another prime prospect for a starting job in 2006. He came in as one of the nation's top DB prospects and as the state's top overall prospect in 2004. He repped early at corner, but settled in as Whitner's backup at strong safety. He played in 10 games this past year and tallied two tackles.

Lukens (6-3, 215) redshirted in 2003, piling on 28 pounds so he could play linebacker. He then suffered a shoulder injury and was lost for the 2004 season. He has trimmed back down 13 pounds to 215 so he could play safety. He played in four games in 2004 before injuring his shoulder. He then played in four games in 2005.

Patterson (6-2, 210) came in a versatile athlete from St. Louis' Hazelwood Central High School. He has a bright future after redshirting in 2004 and playing in all 12 games this past year. He tallied six tackles.

Russell (6-0, 190) was perhaps more well known as a running back at Atlanta's powerful Marist High. He redshirted this past year, but will be in the mix for playing time in 2006.

Washington (6-1, 185) was a late but welcome addition to the 2005 class from Indianapolis Franklin Central. He was an outstanding two-way player there with 45 catches (10 TDs) and four interceptions as a senior. He redshirted this past year and, like Russell, could be in the mix. There has been talk he may also rep at wide receiver this spring.

Lyons (6-4, 214) came in as a highly touted wide receiver in 2004 and caught two passes as a backup wide receiver. He suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for the entire 2005 season. He has also moved over to defense and will do what he can this spring to crack the lineup at safety.

Gant (6-0, 205) had 42 tackles and two interceptions as a safety for Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary's Prep. He also had 829 yards rushing as a senior. He picked OSU over Washington and Michigan.

Schwartz (6-0, 200) was a standout at quarterback and defensive back at Dana Point (Calif.) Dana Hills. He set 15 school records as a prepster. As a senior, he rushed for 655 yards and seven TDs and also threw for 1,219 yards and 10 TDs. He had 15 tackles, an interception and a kick return for a score as a senior.

Oliver (6-0, 195) helped lead Lakewood St. Edward to the Division I state semifinals as a junior. This past fall, he tallied 70 tackles, 12 tackles-for-loss and two interceptions. He was one of the first players OSU offered for the 2007 class and he verbaled on Feb. 1.

* Still Looking?: The Buckeyes are in real good shape at safety. They even have a jump on 2007 with the verbal commitment by Oliver.

Others whom the Buckeyes may keep an eye on include Cincinnati Colerain's Eugene Clifford (6-2, 190), Lakewood St. Edward's Diauntae Morrow (6-0, 185), Canfield's Sean Baker (6-1, 190) and Copley's David Arnold (6-1, 183).

Kickers/Punters

* Departed Senior (1): Kicker Josh Huston.

* In The Fold (3): Punter A.J. Trapasso (So.), kicker Ryan Pretorius (So.), kicker Aaron Pettrey (R-Fr.).

* In Limbo (1): Kicker Jonathan Skeete (So.).

* Walk-Ons (4): Punter Tyson Gentry (So.), punter Jonathan Thoma (R-Fr.), kicker Michael Mattimoe (R-Fr.), punter Evan Jablonka (R-Fr.).

* Analysis: Trapasso enjoyed a fine first season as the starting punter, averaging 40.4 yards per punt. He outdueled Gentry for the job in preseason camp and, barring something unforeseen, will hold it for the next three years.

The kicker job is wide open with Huston's departure. He proved dependable on field goals and was a weapon on kickoffs with over 50 touchbacks on the year.

The leading candidates are Pettrey and Pretorius. Pretorius, a native of South Africa, pushed Huston for the job in the preseason. Pretorius, who is 26 years old, went on scholarship in the fall and has three years of eligibility remaining.

Pettrey has waited a long time for this opportunity. He graduated from Raceland, Ky., in 2004, then sat out that fall as a grayshirt. He walked on last fall and redshirted. He was put on scholarship for winter quarter. This should be a strong competition this spring – and for the next three years.

"Ryan Pretorius has three years left and Aaron Pettrey has four, so we weren't really looking for a kicker this past year," Tressel said.

Skeete (5-10, 195) would have been right in the thick of this competition. But he is working to get back on the team after his arrest last spring on drug charges.

* Not Looking: Trapasso did a fine job in his first year as the starting punter, so there is no urgency to find his replacement. Likewise, by putting Pettrey and Pretorius on scholarship, it couple be a couple of more years before OSU goes out to sign another kicker.

Here are the archives from the previous installments of the post signing day edition of The Big Board:

Part 1: QBs, RBs and Receivers

Part 2: Tight Ends and Offensive Line

Part 3: D-Line and Linebackers


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