The 2020 three-game season was not a big sample size, but watching their defense and special teams, it was readily apparent that the ‘Cats have a lot of talented players in this group.
At least eight defensive backs returning for 2021 saw snaps in the defensive backfield and/or on special teams in 2020, and will pair with some exciting talents from their strong 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes, making the defensive backfield a group on the rise.
We take a look at the groups starting with safety.
The group is anchored by strong safety redshirt senior Jarren Hampton, a walk-on who rose through the ranks to earn a scholarship and become a major contributor, appearing in 39 games, with 17 starts, 113 career tackles and 11 passes defensed.
Hampton is capable of making All-MAC-caliber plays, like this one in 2020 vs CMU, where he swims past a blocker to stop a very good running back (Kobe Lewis) in his tracks on fourth and one (see the 2:19:50 mark).
The free safety battle figures to begin with sophomore Jamison Collier and veteran Alvin Floyd, with either one a very good option.
Collier cracked the starting lineup in 2020 and became one of the Bobcats’ best tackers in short-order, going on to lead the team in tackles with 19. At 6’1, 190, Collier also brings good size to the position.
Floyd has appeared in 26 games for Ohio and turned in some big plays, returning a blocked punt for a score against Western Michigan and intercepting a pass in the end zone as time expired to preserve the only shutout in MAC bowl history, 27-0 over San Diego State.
The future looks bright for the next safety up, redshirt freshman Jett Elad, who made his Bobcat debut in 2020 as the nickel defender vs CMU. Elad made some splash plays in 2020, including two interceptions, which tied him for second in the MAC despite the Bobcats playing only half of their scheduled games.
Tariq Drake and Michael Ballentine can hold their own with the starters, as they showed last year in spot duty, and were important special teams contributors.
Drake is an experienced and versatile player, entering his fifth season, and has snaps at both the safety and corner positions, making him a valuable piece of the secondary rotation.
As a final note on the safeties, one name to keep an eye on is Giovonni Scales, a three-star safety prospect from Columbus, who, according to 247Sports, drew 19 offers, including eight from MAC schools, before choosing Ohio. The six-foot-one, 185 lb. defensive back showed great sense for reading routes and getting in front of the ball as a high school prospect, which was surely what attracted many schools to offer him. His natural ability should translate well into learning the position at a collegiate level.
Ohio’s CB room took a hit after the 2020 season with the loss of the Motley brothers, Ilyaas and Xavier. The Motleys provided a lot of competitive snaps for the Bobcats on special teams and in the defensive backfield in their careers, combining for 44 appearances, with over 100 tackles, 13 passes defensed, and two interceptions.
With the Motleys gone, here is what is happening at CB for the Bobcats.
The projected 2021 starters heading into fall are likely veteran backs Jamal Hudson and sophomore Justin Birchette.
Hudson has battled some injuries, but if he can stay healthy, he could be one of the MAC’s better cover corners; in 24 games with the ‘Cats, Hudson has shown himself to be great in coverage, with 17 passes defensed.
The future looks bright for Birchette, who cracked the starting lineup in 2020 and looks promising based on his cover work; Ohio CBs are left on an island at times and I don’t recall Birchette surrendering any big pass plays.
With the loss of the Motleys, the Bobcats will turn to a veteran or some promising underclassmen for depth.
John Gregory is heading into his fourth year with the ‘Cats, appearing in 14 games, mostly on special teams. He’ll have a chance in camp to make his case for time in the defensive backfield.
Tariq Drake, currently listed at safety, played corner when he arrived at Ohio and could provide a solution at CB if the need arises.
The Bobcat’s cornerback roster is also filled with ‘three-star’ underclass recruits per 247Sports, as well as one four-star recruit per ESPN in Shakari Denson. ESPN ranks Denson as Ohio’s all-time highest rated recruit, while 247Sports ranks Denson as Ohio’s seventh highest rated recruit.
Any of these players could press for early playing time.
The 2021 defensive back recruiting class starts with Denson and Torrie Cox Jr., who intercepted a combined 29 passes in the last few years of high school.
The attribute that cemented Denson and Cox Jr. as playmakers though was their defensive awareness. Both Denson and Cox Jr. had excellent anticipation, routinely positioning themselves in the middle of the play and capitalizing on what they anticipated.
Denson especially was all over the field in high school, playing receiver, defensive back, and returning kicks and punts, exhibiting great athleticism. Denson finished his varsity career with 86 catches and 15 touchdowns, 149 tackles, and three kickoff and punt returns for touchdown.
Torrie Cox Jr. has a great pedigree, as his dad played CB for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2003-2009 and was named to two Pro Bowls. Make no mistake though, Cox Jr. was a great high school player in his own right, finishing with 126 tackles, 12 interceptions, and an all-state team selection in the hard-scrabble recruiting grounds of Florida.
Like Denson, Cox Jr. could be an early option on punt or kickoff returns based on his Hudl video.
From the 2020 recruiting class, Roman Parodie and Peter Kemeni, are well-regarded players, with a combined 14 scholarship offers. At 6’1,” both have good size and with a year in the system, they should be ready to compete for time this fall.
Next time we take a look at Ohio’s coaching staff in 2020. You may have heard recently about some big changes.