Spring Forecast: Cornerback
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes will have a lot of new faces on the defense in 2013, but one player Urban Meyer can count on is All-American Bradley Roby.
Photo by Dan Harker
The Georgia native enters his third season as a starting corner for the Buckeyes, which is something considering the fact he redshirted as a rookie back in 2010. That team had Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence at corner, but this year’s group should have as much depth and talent as any in recent history assuming Doran Grant is ready to be a strong No. 2 on the other side. In today’s Spring Forecast we take a closer look at what to expect from the corner position when the Buckeyes open spring camp next month.
Who's Coming Back?
The biggest news of the entire offseason for Ohio State almost certainly had to be the return of Roby. Not only was he one of the best players on Ohio State’s defense last season, but he had developed into one of the best corners in the entire country.
That led Roby to consider a jump to the NFL after his redshirt junior season with the Buckeyes, but the Georgia native decided he could use another year under Luke Fickell and Kerry Coombs. The idea of playing for a national championship as a junior certainly played into Roby’s decision, but the biggest reason is back is to establish himself as one of the premier defensive players in college football.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes are beyond fortunate Roby decided to come back for another year, as they are already tasked with replacing senior Travis Howard on the other side. Howard as an All-Big Ten corner for the Buckeyes this past season. While he wasn’t always a fan favorite, Howard did lead the team with four picks in 2012.
Howard’s departure opens the door for junior Doran Grant, a product of Stk. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. Ohio State’s No. 3 corner a year ago, Grant was cons8777idered a de facto starter by Coombs, the team’s first-year cornerbacks coach. He is one of the fastest guys on the team, but didn’t exactly wow anyone in the one game he started last season.
Behind Howard, the Buckeyes return sophomore Armani Reeves and junior Adam Griffin from last season. They also have Najee Murray back for his second year, but the Steubenville product will likely miss all of spring ball as he continues to recover from a torn ACL.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
With Roby back, expectations are as high as they have been in quite some time for the OSU cornerbacks this spring. Roby is a dynamic playmaker in the OSU secondary who does a little bit of everything.
He led the Big Ten in passed defended last season, but he also finished third on Ohio State in tackles behind Ryan Shazier and Christian Bryant. He only had two picks, primarily because quarterbacks figured out they should throw away from No. 1, but Roby has the speed to make players other guys simply cannot make.
The other side is a little bit of a question mark, but Doran Grant has been “the guy” in waiting since he got to OSU three years ago. He’s finally going to get his shot, and it should help that he will be the team’s No. 2 corner this season instead of having the pressure of replacing Roby as the team’s shutdown corner.
Best Case Scenario
Best case scenario would be Grant locking down the other starting spot across from Roby in the spring so the Buckeyes can start to really concentrate on figuring out who the next two guys behind them are going to be.
That’s critical because, barring something unforeseen, Roby is probably gone after this season. Unless he gets hurt or really drops off as a junior, Roby should be one of the top-rated cornerbacks in next year’s NFL Draft.
That means Meyer and his defensive staff have to start developing someone who can step in across from Grant next season. Their primary focus will be on 2013, but best case scenario would be someone like Armani Reeves emerging as a true No. 3 corner who can step in and play when called upon.
One to Watch For
We mentioned incoming freshman Cam Burrows as the guy to watch in our spring safeties forecast, but Burrows is actually going to start out as a corner. He has the physical ability and speed to play corner, but some scouts project he will eventually grow out of the position.
The other kid to keep an eye on this spring is fellow freshman Eli Apple. Those who don’t follow recruiting all that closely might remember him by the name Eli Woodard, but the corner out of New Jersey recently took his adopted father’s last name.
At 6-0, 185, Apple is a little bit more of a natural corner than Burrows. He doesn’t have the same physicality, but Apple is a cover guy who was rated as the No. 3 corner in the class of 2013 by ESPN.
He was a consensus top 10 corner in his class and a U.S. Army All-American back in January.
Trending Up or Down
Things are definitely trending up for the Buckeyes are cornerback, but that certainly would not have been the case if Roby had decided to leave after last season. His return fills a huge void and it allows guys like Reeves, Burrows and Apple to learn from one of the better guys at the position.
All three of those young guys were rated among the best corners in the country coming out of high school. That doesn’t mean they are all future All-Americans, but it does mean the future looks pretty bright for the Buckeyes.
Odds are at least one of those guys will emerge as a special player for the Buckeyes over the next 2-3 years, although it probably isn’t going to happen this spring.
With Roby back and Grant being the next guy in line, the Buckeyes are in good shape at the corner position this spring. It will be interesting to see how Burrows and Apple fit into the equation, especially with Murray out because of the knee injury.
Everyone is quick to write of Adam Griffin, but I thought he looked pretty good when I saw him in practice last year. He’s quick and he plays with a lot of passion and energy. Ultimately size is always going to be a factor for the 5-8 out of Columbus DeSales.
He probably spends most of his career as a special teams guy – and a pretty good one too – but I wouldn’t be surprised if he exceeded people’s expectations at some point. It will have to happen soon, though, because Reeves and the two freshmen are going to come on strong.
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