COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State has had its fair share of struggles on defense this season. The Buckeyes rank 118th in the country in yards allowed per game (471.3) and they’ve given up those yards in a multitude of ways. There are undoubtedly areas that need to be improved, but there are also young players improving each week, specifically two in the secondary — sophomore safety Ronnie Hickman and true freshman cornerback Denzel Burke.

Hickman starts at the bullet position, a hybrid of linebacker and safety, and has played the role well leading the team in tackles with 30. The next closest Buckeye has 21 tackles. But it’s Hickman’s versatility that stands out as he’s able to seamlessly transition from an inside the box tackler to a free range defensive back.

“I’m a versatile guy. Whatever the coaches want to throw at me I feel like I can take,” Hickman said. “My goal was just to contribute to this team as best as I can.”

Hickman can play in the box and serve as a third linebacker, which he showed by making a career-high 11 tackles against Minnesota followed by 10 tackles against Oregon. When Ohio State changed its scheme from one single-high safety to two against Tulsa, Hickman stepped up as the additional free safety making his first career interception, earning the title of defensive champion for a second time this season.

Meanwhile, Burke has established himself as one of the top cornerbacks not just at Ohio State but in the entire country with 10 tackles and six pass breakups.

“I think that what Denzel has done since he’s got here is have a very professional approach, he’s worked really hard, he’s very competitive,” coach Ryan Day said. “He keeps bringing it and that’s the part that, as a young player to show consistency, is the challenge.”

He’s been up to the challenge so far and has earned a starting role even though the Buckeyes returned two experienced corners in Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown. Both players are still getting plenty of reps, but Burke is shaping up to be the next great defensive back to come through Columbus and has shown he deserves to on the field during the biggest moment of the game.

“It’s just a testament to all the hard work I’ve put in my whole life. I’ve worked my butt off and I just want to keep going, keep going harder cause I’ve still got a lot to prove,” Burke said. “I expect a lot of things out of myself.”