Nearly every starting cornerback of the past 15 years at Ohio State has been drafted into the NFL, a streak that hit a hiccup in 2006 when Antonio Smith went undrafted after an All-Big Ten season. Since Smith left, both Donald Washington and Malcolm Jenkins have been tabbed by pro teams.
With that tradition in mind, the fact that the Buckeyes return two starters at the cornerback position in Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa has to spell good things for OSU – and bad for opposing receivers.
Last year, only three opponents – Marcus Curry of Navy, Keith Smith of Purdue and Roy Roundtree of Michigan – passed 100 yards receiving, and on the whole opponents completed 54.2 percent of their passes for 10 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.
That is the standard for Buckeye corners, one that will fall onto the team's youngsters should playing time arise this year or in the future. Luckily enough, Torrence thinks the Buckeyes as a unit can handle that pressure.
"Our corner group is pretty good," Torrence said. "We're going to be as good as we want to be."
Thanks to injuries to Chekwa and reserve Travis Howard, three of the lesser known quantities in the Buckeye cornerback room have been given a chance to perform in the limelight this spring, with junior Donnie Evege grabbing the bull by the horns.
A fourth-year member of the Buckeye team, Evege is making noise at corner while working with the first unit. He came up with a big interception during the second week of practice, and he balanced a pass interference call early in Saturday's jersey scrimmage with a pass breakup in the end zone in which he used his veteran wiles to avoid a flag while making life difficult on intended receiver DeVier Posey.
"That's my dude," Torrence said. "He's getting a lot of good breaks on the balls this year. I think he's finally getting confident in himself and his game. People don't understand, at cornerback there's really an art to the position. To understand all the details, it takes a long time. He's finally starting to pick it up and understand the position a little better."
One of the fastest members of the OSU team, Evege picked up 14 tackles a season ago as a special teams maven.
"I'm very proud of him," cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. "To have a guy step up like that and get a chance to get a lot of reps and make some plays and do some things, it's good to see. He's worked extremely hard at it and we're excited about that."
Another player turning heads is redshirt freshman Corey Brown, who earned acclaim as a four-star player coming out of high school. At Ohio State, he's drawn comparisons to Jenkins, a three-year starter and now a Super Bowl champion, for his long arms and athletic abilities.
"He's progressed a ton," Johnson said. "You have to remember, he hasn't played a lot of corner. With a body like he has with the long arms and big hands, if he does a good job of just using his feet and using his limbs, he'll be OK. He's really done a good job of taking coaching and studying."
Another player working with the second unit along with Brown is fellow redshirt freshman Dominic Clarke. Though he's been beaten at times in camp and earned the brunt of some lectures from the boisterous Johnson, Clarke boasts top-end speed and the athleticism to excel once he puts everything together.
"He's got loose hips," Johnson said. "He probably has the loosest hips in the room. He can do a lot of things to make up because he has great hips."
Because of injury, the odd man out at the moment who Ohio State fans have yet to see much out of is Howard, who is entering his sophomore season. However, Johnson said that the time off could help Howard, who was the fourth corner last year behind the two starters and graduated senior Andre Amos.
"Him not being out there is tough, but I think the main thing is it's been better for him on the mental side of it," Johnson said. "He's listening to the coaches and you can see him help those other guys, seeing that, ‘Hey, this is what you're supposed to do.' He's such a smart guy when you sit in the meeting room, he looks at it and he knows right away, so now when he gets out there and can get his body going again he'll be fine."