New Names Emerge in Defensive Backfield

There are plenty of other names coming up regularly in the discussions about the Ohio State defensive backfield this spring.

Kurt Coleman, who can't seem to avoid the ball if he tries, has moved to safety and made a strong bid to start this fall. Tyler Moeller, a tweener the coaches want to get on the field however they might, is also a new face among the last line of OSU's defense.

Among the young cornerbacks, Chimdi Chekwa is catching eyes with his athleticism, and Andre Amos was looking more polished before a knee injury put his spring on pause last week.

One returning starter – corner Malcolm Jenkins – has fielded questions about his potential to be a captain and even an All-American, while the other – safety Jamario O'Neal – looks to build on an up-and-down first season as a starter by adding knowledge of the defense to his unquestioned athleticism.

But what then, of Donald Washington? Despite making nine starts as the nickelback last season, the sophomore corner seems to fly under the radar these days.

Making a pair of interceptions in the second jersey scrimmage of the spring – the one that decided which side would wear the coveted scarlet jerseys until the middle of fall camp – could go a ways toward changing that, however.

Even if that was one of the first times the Indianapolis native could thrust his name near the top of the headlines, it was not the first time his teammates noticed his performance this spring.

"I think Donald is doing good," Jenkins said late last week of the man penciled in to play opposite him this fall. "He's coming along. He's started from where he stopped last year, so he's continuing to get better."

When last year concluded, Washington was fourth among defensive backs with 41 tackles and 250 minutes. Only Jenkins, O'Neal and departed seniors Antonio Smith and Brandon Mitchell played more among DBs.

When the Buckeyes went to their nickel or dime defensive packages, the 5-9 Smith – the starter at corner opposite Jenkins in Ohio State's base 4-3 alignment – slid inside while Washington entered to take on wide receivers on the perimeter.

This fall, he figures to use his 6-1, 195-pound frame to match-up with some of the Big Ten's best receivers.

"Donald is definitely an exceptional player," new OSU cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. "He's a young man who's played a lot of football, a man that has some physical tools."

Johnson said those physical attributes should give the Buckeyes a lot of options in their defensive calls, especially if the final starting corner tandem is Washington and Jenkins, who also stands 6-1.

"When you have tall corners, you can do a lot just because receivers, when they're on the line you can press them, get a jam on them, and you can cover ground a lot better.

"He's a good tackler as well. He's a young man that we're counting on for sure because he has some experience."

Thus, as it turns out, while fans look for the next big thing in Coleman, Amos or even Chekwa, time under fire is keeping Washington atop the depth chart and fueling his improving play.

Avoiding complication as much as possible in defensive calls has helped the whole unit, Washington said.

"We're just keeping it simple right now so guys can just run around and play," he said. "I like it like that.

"Spring for me I think has been real good. It's been real productive and I think I've gotten a lot better this spring. From the last game until now, I think I'm more comfortable, and when I'm more comfortable, I play with a lot more confidence and trusting my teammates and the coaches."

And that trust paid off Saturday in the jersey scrimmage. Washington was simply playing his spot when Todd Boeckman's pass intended for Ray Small was deflected, and Washington snagged it out of the air to end the first series of the game.

On pick number two, Washington again appeared to be handling his duty in the OSU zone when Robby Schoenhoft lofted a pass down the left sideline toward Small, who may have been running a different pattern than the quarterback was expecting.

Whatever the case, Washington was more than happy to step in front of the pass and return it 30-plus yards before Schoenhoft came up with the touchdown-saving tackle.

"I don't want to say it felt easy," Jenkins said of the defense's win over the offense. "It was just a situation where guys knew their assignments, guys knew their reads and their drops and guys were just making plays on the ball."

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