Coombs Pushing Young But Talented Cornerback Group
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State has produced a long line of NFL cornerbacks, and that's no accident. Now, under cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, it is expected to be the standard. That may sound like a lot to ask, which it is, but that's not going to stop Coombs from asking.
"We're going to have great expectations that you're gonna play – and they are gonna play," Coombs said.
"And they're gonna end up being first-round draft picks. That's the standard in our room – be a first round draft pick. If you're not, figure out why not and get to that point."
Coombs certainly has a first rounder in his group right now in All-American Bradley Roby, but he's got six other scholarship players in his room that still need to get there.
"I think they're playing at a reasonably high level for spring football," he surmised.
"I think we know what we have to get accomplished this spring. We're very young. We've got a lot of kids that don't have a lot of true game experience that are going to need to get it, but I really like them. I like their work ethic. They're very diligent and very serious about their business. They're going to be very, very good as time develops, I think."
Doran Grant and Kerry Coombs
Photo by Jim Davidson
With Roby locking down the prime boundary corner spot, Doran Grant is penciled in as the starter at field corner. Grant had an up and down season last year as a sophomore, but did perform well in his lone start against UAB when he recorded seven tackles, an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery. Coombs is expecting more of that from Grant this season.
"I think he's come a long way, half way through spring, and he is definitely the starter," said Coombs.
"He is going to compete really, really hard. Our expectations here are very high. Our expectations are if you're going to play here, you're going to be one of the best in the country, and that's his job."
The battle for Grant's old job as the third cornerback is now between sophomore Armani Reeves and true freshmen Cameron Burrows and Eli Apple. Reeves is ahead of them both at the moment, and continues to make plays in every single practice.
"Armani is really good," Coombs said.
Photo by Dan Harker
"Armani is going to play a lot of ball. I walk into my room every day with the expectation that all of those guys in there are getting ready to play. I don't really sweat a whole lot."
Those expectations come with constant harassment, or "coaching", on the practice field. Coombs says that he pushes his players because Big Ten football isn't easy. It's hard to argue with the results. Last year, both of his starting cornerbacks – Bradley Roby and Travis Howard – were named First Team All-Big Ten.
He doesn't reserve that type of intensity just for the veterans. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's generally the freshmen who receive most of his encouraging ire. Last year, it was freshman Tyvis Powell, who redshirted and is now the starter at nickel back.
This year, it's freshmen Apple and Burrows who are hearing it. Both have tremendous potential, but Coombs isn't pulling any verbal punches. He can't afford to.
"Love them," he said.
"Long. Playing hard. Serious. Not prepared. I wouldn't expect them to be. They should be getting ready to go to the prom. They've never practiced like this. It's like a shock wave that just keeps coming and coming and coming. And they are handling it, because I'm giving them no slack because guess what, in the fall there's going to be no slack. We have every expectation that they're going to play in the fall, and that's why they're here. So you've got to go. Here is the fire, jump in and go play."
He also has Powell and Adam Griffin in his room, though they split time at cornerback and nickel back. There's a reason Coombs is working so hard to get so many players ready to play.
"We should not expect our corners to play 75 snaps per game in Big Ten play," he explained.
"We shouldn't expect that and we don't want that. We want to be able to play four and five guys so that guys are fresh. Our situation last year was not what we want. We don't want Bradley Roby playing 890 plays. That's not what we want and that's not ideal. Our ideal situation is that all of those guys play, all of them contribute. And I think that's healthy. That way if a guy gets dinged or a guy gets tired, you don't feel like the sky is falling."
With Coombs in charge, it's doubtful that the sky would ever be falling. And if it ever started to, he would simply chase it back up.
Yes, the Buckeyes will be relying on some young cornerbacks this season, but they have a standard to live up to. Kerry Coombs intends on getting them there.
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