Updated: Aug. 11, 2023, 8:59 a.m.|
Published Aug. 10, 2023, 9:54 p.m.
By Nathan Baird, cleveland.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jordan Hancock spent Ohio State football’s 2022 season in a physical and emotional purgatory.
Months of building promise stopped cold one week into preseason camp when the cornerback injured a hamstring while covering a route in practice. When he finally returned at midseason, he couldn’t conjure the explosiveness that made him one of the defense’s most promising players the previous spring.
“People don’t realize that like, I didn’t have (preseason) camp,” Hancock said. “I didn’t practice eight weeks. I just got thrown into the fire. But I’m thankful to be thrown in that fire because I learned from those games and now I’m better off.”
Actually, people were well aware of Hancock’s absence. They read the reports of him limping through preseason camp. They heard Buckeye coaches bemoaning his unavailability while the other cornerbacks — some of whom dealt with their own injury issues — struggled through the season’s first half.
With Hancock one year removed from that interruption — and fully healthy — Ohio State is making plans to keep him on the field as much as possible.
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said last week he considers Hancock and Denzel Burke the team’s starting cornerbacks. Hancock on Thursday confirmed he is also cross-training at nickel safety. That could be a way to put three cornerbacks on the field together on obvious passing downs.
Defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach Tim Walton said Hancock’s intelligence earned him that look at nickel. While physically restricted last season, Hancock still absorbed the intricacies of Knowles’ system. Now he is beating receivers to the ball in practice and displaying a more mature approach.
“The game has slowed down for him so he can play fast,” Walton said. “He’s seeing it quicker. ... He’s able to process things really fast — see formations, see splits and being able to diagnose plays.”
How much did Ohio State miss Hancock last season? Burke, who primarily defends on the boundary, called him “one of the best off corners I’ve ever seen.” Knowles said the dup both had “great springs and great summers.”
Sometimes coaches pump the brakes on raising preseason expectations, especially for players coming off injury. Knowles jumped past that formality on Day 1.
“The next step for both of them is to be dominant,” Knowles said. “I mean dominant. They can do it.”
Hancock already had plenty of motivation to come back strong in 2023. More arrived last winter when Davison Igbinosun transferred in from Ole Miss.
He had already proven himself as a starter in the SEC. He stood 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and seemed even larger in some matchups. Yet he also carried himself with a presence that helped Hancock find his own edge.
“He teaches me a lot of stuff,” Hancock said. “He moves like a vet. He doesn’t play around at all. He comes in here working. So that really does push me. We feed off each other’s energy.”
Hancock said he enjoys playing nickel because “you hit people more.” Physicality is one area of growth in which he is especially proud. Another is his improving ability to match routes against a receiver group that includes unanimous All-American Marvin Harrison Jr. and overlooked 1,000-yard star Emeka Egbuka.
The 2022 season ended up being partially defined by hamstring injuries, between Hancock and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Who knows what impact a healthy Hancock could have had against Michigan or Georgia? One big play prevented would have swung both outcomes.
The Buckeyes have never let go of the underlying talent that made Hancock a top-75 prospect in the 2021 class.
“Guys get into that third, fourth year, they start to get their rhythm going — they start to feel it,” OSU coach Ryan Day said. “And you’re starting to see that with Jordan.”
If Oho State feels Hancock’s presence, rather than his absence, it might end the program’s four-year search for a cornerback resurgence.

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