Making a name for himself

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A redshirt doesn't buy anybody immunity in a meeting room with Kerry Coombs, and the Ohio State cornerbacks coach has a seemingly bottomless supply of tough love.

So day after day last fall, a player who wasn't in the secondary's immediate plans was receiving just as much attention as the guys already on the field, perhaps even more.

Tyvis Powell's ears might still be ringing from his first few months with the Buckeyes, as Coombs cut him no slack as he tried to mold the defensive back into a contributor while giving the freshman a new name in the process.

"I'm pretty sure that he got convinced over time that his first name was 'Dammit,' " Coombs joked. "'Dammit, Tyvis.'

"I tried to beat Tyvis up every day last year. I tried to toughen him and callous him up, and I did that on purpose because that's what is going to be required of him down the road here."

Powell isn't even close to the end of his journey yet, but he's been among the biggest surprises of the spring for a team that appears loaded in the defensive backfield.

With a pair of senior safeties returning, an All-American at one cornerback spot and another talented veteran at the other, there didn't look to be much room for new faces to squeeze into the rotation -- let alone one who didn't see the field at all a season ago. But Powell impressed in the offseason program, and with a tantalizing mix of athleticism and 6-foot-3 size, the Buckeyes plugged him in with the first-unit in the nickel package during the first practice in March and haven't been disappointed in the results.

And while that doesn't spare him from the wrath of Coombs, Powell is certainly making sure his real name is better known heading into the last week of practice and Saturday's spring game in Cincinnati.

"Being a freshman here, it's tough because you're going from being the most valuable player on your high school team to coming here and being like the Average Joe," Powell said. "When you go out to training camp, you're going to face some hard times.

"This university is based on mental toughness, and you've got to get through it. That's what [the coaches] are trying to do, find out if you're mentally tough."

Powell has passed that test so far with Coombs, and the next step is continuing to prove that he's got the physical toughness to be a factor on defense as well.

His height makes it difficult for Powell to be in many coverage mismatches, and the coaching staff has compared him to a hybrid between a linebacker and a defensive back. That versatility could make him particularly useful for a team that figures to be operating out of nickel and dime packages regularly, since Powell can both play in the box against the rush and in coverage against the pass.

And while there's still plenty of room to grow before the Buckeyes turn him loose in that role in a meaningful situation, Powell clearly has somebody invested in making sure that happens.

"I think he's come a long way, probably the furthest of anybody in the room," Coombs said. "I think Tyvis was reasonably immature, and that's not his fault. He was a high school senior at this time last year and you throw him in the mix and the game went a little fast for him. He had to catch up.

"He responded. He never buckled, he never quit, he never folded his cards, and he went to work. He's not there yet, now -- but he has got a chance to be a very, very good player."