Ohio’s secondary is probably the most changed group for the ‘Cats as we head into the 2022 campaign. Gone after 2021 are starters S Jarren Hampton and CB Jamal Hudson, both program staples. Hampton finished his career with 161 tackles and Hudson with 81 stops and 18 PBUs.
The ‘Cats also say goodbye to contributor S Michael Ballenine, who appeared in five games in 2021 with 21 stops.Adding to the losses, three young players including S Jett Elad hit the transfer portal and are no longer on the roster.
Despite the losses, Ohio returns what should be an improved group in ‘22.
Ohio features All-MAC talent at safety and some young corners who should be looking to take the next development step after significant playing time last season. The Bobcats also reassigned some players from the talent-rich LB corps to the DB room and added some accomplished JUCOs to bolster young, emerging talent.
We preview some of the contributors for 2022:
With the retirement of DC and safeties coach Ron Collins after the 2021 season, the ‘Cats hired John Hauser from rival Miami RedHawks to coach safeties. Hauser is an experienced MAC defensive back coach, coaching Miami RedHawks’ DBs from 2014-2021 and Northern Illinois’ DBs from 2006-2008.
Hauser inherits some experienced, talented players at safety, led by 2021 third-team All-MAC selection Tariq Drake.
Drake started his Bobcat career as a cornerback and emerged last season as playmaker at safety for ‘Cats, leading the team with three interceptions and finishing fourth with 48 tackles.
Drake really flashed in the red zone too in 2021, chipping in several impressive plays in run and pass support.
Other safeties start with Alvin Floyd, who brings a ton of experience and should log significant playing time in 2022. Floyd has appeared in 37 games during his ‘Cats career and finished third on the squad in 2021 with 61 tackles with a pick and a pass defensed.
An intriguing addition to the group is Ben Johnson, who moved from LB to S for the 2022 season. Johnson brings good size to the position at six-foot-one, 200 lbs., and has great speed and acceleration to boot, as seen while blocking on this kickoff return for touchdown in 2020 versus CMU (look for Ohio #30 around midfield at the 9:50 mark.)
The Bobcats added JUCO Tyler Mullins, who could push for time on defense or special teams. Mullins was second-team all-conference in 2021, finishing with 33 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and an INT.
The Bobcats secondary was in turmoil in 2021 in terms of personnel attrition, where there was talk at times of pressing into service offensive players like former Bobcat WR Isiah Cox on defense to cover the losses.
The silver lining is the experience gained by players last year can pay dividends in 2022 as the multiple players could be ready to take that next step in development.
Justin Birchette is one of Ohio’s most experienced CB, appearing in 28 games on defense and special teams. Birchette solidified himself last season as a starter and posted a career-best 22 stops.
The other corner starter candidates likely start with Roman Parodie and Torrie Cox Jr.
Parodie entered the fray as a freshman in 2021, appearing in all 12 games. Parodie made some splash plays in 2021 with five pass break-ups, two interceptions, 23 tackles and a sack, facing some of the MACs top WRs like Miami’s Jack Sorenson and CMU’s Kalil Pimpleton.
Redshirt freshman Cox Jr., the son of seven-year NFL veteran cornerback Torrie Cox, made his own mark in high school as a dynamic playmaker on defense and special teams and appeared for the Bobcats in a few games as a true freshman last year. Cox Jr. should have a shot at a big bump in playing time in 2022.
Ohio also hit the JUCO ranks where they added an experienced option in Mississippi CC’s Cam McCullum. The former Delta Trojan appeared in 14 contests over two years with 33 tackles and 2 PBU’s.
With the Bobcats probably using a 4-2-5 base defense this season under new DC Spence Nowinsky, the Bobcats could employ players like CB John Gregory and S Jeremiah Wood in a nickel role, as both have the size and athleticism to excel.
Gregory, at six-foot-one, 215 lbs., is an imposing figure who played his biggest role last year, appearing in every game, finishing with 43 tackles and 2 pass break-ups.
At six-foot, 215 lbs., Wood appeared in five games last season with 10 tackles while with the LB group.
Fans will get their first look at the 2022 DB group in action when the Bobcats take on the FAU Owls in the season opener on Saturday, September 3, 2022 at 6 p.m. Eastern time.