After early struggles, Ohio State football cornerback Denzel Burke expected to rebound – The Columbus Dispatch

  • September 15, 2022

Denzel Burke was a few yards behind Arkansas State receiver Champ Flemings.
It was in the second quarter of Ohio State’s win over the Red Wolves on Saturday when Burke lost a step to Flemings on a streak down the sideline.
The slip in coverage left Flemings open as he brought in a pass from quarterback James Blackman for a 58-yard completion.
The sequence was among the struggles Burke went through during the second week of the season. In addition to surrendering the longest reception of his career, he committed two pass-interference penalties, though one was declined.
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But the Buckeyes expect Burke, who broke out as a freshman last fall and became their top cover cornerback, to rebound in the weeks ahead.
“Denzel is very, very talented,” coach Ryan Day said, “and you see what he’s capable of. He’s going to keep working to get better. He certainly has some plays he wants back. But we’re all confident that he’s ready to make those plays.
“At the same time, he’s got to identify what those things are that got him jammed up on those plays and make the adjustments from there.”
After a tough start in last week’s game, including being beat deep by Flemings, Burke sat out for the remaining series of the second quarter. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles considered the rest beneficial before Burke made his return to start the third quarter.
“Those guys at corner live on an island,” Knowles said. “It’s something that 99.99% of the population could never do. It’s a really tough, competitive situation. Sometimes you get into a little bit of a slump, you come out, reassess. He went back in and did better, so I think he’s on track.”
One contributing factor to Burke’s up-and-down start might be the limited ramp-up time he was afforded in preseason training camp.  
Burke was among a handful of cornerbacks who were banged up in practices, and though Ohio State has not provided specifics about the nature of the injury, he has worn a protective brace supporting his left shoulder in recent weeks.
Knowles acknowledged Burke would have benefited from more matchups against the Buckeyes’ talented group of receivers last month.
“Repetitions stack on top of each other,” Knowles said, “and repetitions against quality opponents stack on top of each other. When you miss a lot of time against our offense, those are certainly repetitions that can elevate your playing performance. It doesn’t help.”
When Burke was sidelined during the second quarter last week, the Buckeyes brought in JK Johnson, a redshirt freshman. After a shoulder injury kept him out for most of last season, Johnson made an impression on the staff over the offseason.
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“He’s practiced well,” Day said. “He’s done a good job. Whether it’s preseason or during the season, the only way you get better is to practice, and that sounds like a cliché from a coach, but it’s true. JK has practiced, and because of that, he’s allowed himself the opportunity to get out there and earn some snaps.”
Johnson played 57 snaps against Arkansas State, the third-most among the Buckeyes’ defenders, according to data from Pro Football Focus, as he remained on the field late in the blowout while the starters rested.
His progress is important for the Buckeyes’ secondary as their options at cornerback behind Burke and Cameron Brown are limited.
They began this season with only six scholarship cornerbacks, and one of them, Jordan Hancock, who was expected to be a top backup, has yet to appear in a game.
That could change this week, as Day said the Buckeyes are hoping he will be available for Saturday’s game against Toledo. In recent weeks, his participation in practice has increased as he has been a part of the scout-team defense.
“It was a significant injury that took a long time to get back from,” Day said. “So he’s been working hard. It’s not like he hasn’t been working at it.”
Knowles said he has tried not to worry about the lack of depth to start this season.
“It really doesn’t matter how I feel,” he said. “It is what it is. We’re working with the guys we have, and they’re giving us everything that they have, and we’re going to be getting better.”
Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman

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