Spring Position Recap: Cornerback

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2014 Spring Positional Recap: Cornerback
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Losing a first-round NFL Draft pick is generally never a good thing for a position group, but that's the hand that has been dealt to the Ohio State cornerbacks heading into 2014.

Without Bradley Roby, the Buckeyes entered the spring with just one established cornerback in senior Doran Grant. Despite the unproven nature of the position, there may not have been a more impressive group on the entire team this spring.

Doran Grant
Photo by Jim Davidson
Doran Grant

Some of the cornerback success this spring may have been a result of two inexperienced quarterbacks throwing the ball, but even on accurate throws there was rarely a receiver running free on the outside.

In past years, we have seen receivers have success on deep sideline routes, but that was not the case this spring. Again, some of that is on the quarterbacks, but a good portion of that credit also belongs to the cornerbacks.

This spring showed us that more than two corners are going to play, and while at the moment they may not be as deep as they were a season ago, cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs knows that that will have to change.

"Not yet," Coombs said when asked if they were deeper than last season. 

"But we will be and we'll have to be because the style of play dictates it, so those guys are going to have to play. We're gonna play more than two, I want you to know that. Gareon is right in the mix. Eli Apple has had a very good spring. I'm eager, and I'm gonna tell you what, those two freshmen coming in are gonna have a chance to play."

Returning Starters: Doran Grant (5-11 193, Sr.)

It was a relatively quiet spring for Doran Grant as he spent much of it on the sideline either nursing slight injuries or simply getting a break or two.

He is the team's boundary cornerback, which means that he plays on the short side of the field and involves himself in the run game as much as possible. It's a new role for him, but it's one that every cornerback at Ohio State needs to embrace.

This spring Grant said he was average a year ago, but Coombs slightly disagrees.

"I think he was better than average last year," he said. 

"I think his improvement this year has been dramatic. I'm excited to see him play. He is a young man with incredible athletic ability. His combine-type numbers are gonna match those of many of the great corners in the country today and those that have played here. And yet at the same time there have been little glitches that have prevented him from achieving the success that those numbers would indicate, and really that's my job. 

"So we've spent a lot of time this offseason exploring all of the techniques and different things that are going to hopefully help him improve. I think he's got a real focus and dedication to that. I'm really excited to watch him. He's taken the leadership in the room, and that's been important too."

Others Returning: Armani Reeves (5-10 198, Jr.); Gareon Conley (6-0 190, rFr.) Eli Apple (6-1 195, rFr.); Nik Sarac (5-9 183, rJr.)

Despite expectations by some to the contrary, Armani Reeves started spring practice as a starting cornerback, and he ended the spring as a starting cornerback.

While Eli Apple and Gareon Conley may have made more plays, they also had more opportunities. Reeves wasn't attacked much while the media was present, which is an indication of the type of coverage that he was providing this spring.

Eli Apple
Photo by Dan Harker

"I feel ready, I feel confident," Reeves said this spring. "I think that’s half the battle when you're a corner. Just being confident, knowing that you can do the job. When I get out there, whether it be the Spring Game or the first game of the season, I’m gonna play with confidence and know that I can do this job. I’m not worried about it at all."

Reeves also slid down to the nickel in passing situations, allowing Conley to move into Reeves' vacated corner spot. Conley is one of the fastest players on the team and displayed the ball skills that you would expect from a talented high school wide receiver.

Apple was just as impressive as Conley this spring, proving himself to be an aggressive defender and big hitter. Together the two redshirt freshmen made quite a claim for the starter's spot opposite Grant.

"It's great because competition always brings the best out of everybody," Apple said this spring. 

"Me and Gareon are roommates. We have a great relationship. We're always pushing each other to get better every day. Because whoever is the best guy is going to get the job for sure, and whoever the best guy is needs" to be ready. Everybody has to be ready because everybody can play, so we're always pushing each other. It's good competition.

Newcomers: Damon Webb (5-11 180, Fr.), Marshon Lattimore (6-0 180, Fr.)

Neither Damon Webb or Marshon Lattimore enrolled early, so neither participated in spring football for the Buckeyes. Kerry Coombs wants both to play this season, on special teams and defense.

Webb is an aggressive in-your-face defender that seems perfectly suited for Ohio State's new press-man coverage. He is quick, has good hands and should hit the ground running when he gets to Columbus,

Lattimore is enough of an athlete to excel on offense or defense for the Buckeyes, but he will start out on defense. He has tremendous speed and has the hips to turn and stay with receivers.

"Their job is simple," Coombs said of the two freshmen back on signing day.

"Their job is to prepare to play for Ohio State in a very, very short period of time. And that's their only job. We've been around visiting doing home visits with these guys, making sure they understand their expectation of themselves, because it is what our expectation is, is that they come in prepared to play this fall. So how do they get that done?

"When I'm talking with Damon Webb, I'm talking with him about, well, make sure you understand what Doran Grant and Gareon Conley and those guys are doing at Ohio State right now so you can emulate as much of that as you can on your own. So when you're in June you're in the best possible shape to play in the fall. I simply believe it's their job. It's our job to assemble them into what we hope is another fantastic season. But their job is to get themselves individually ready."

Depth Chart
Doran Grant (5-11 193, Sr.)
Eli Apple (6-1 195, rFr.)
Damon Webb (5-11 180, Fr.)

Armani Reeves (5-10 198, Jr.)
Gareon Conley (6-0 190, rFr.)
Marshon Lattimore (6-0 180), Fr.)
Nik Sarac (5-9 183, rJr.)

Spring Links

Conley and Apple Use Productive Spring to Showcase Talents

Reeves Confident New Style of Play Will Suit Him

Handing Out the Spring Football Hardware, MLB Style

Breaking Down Ohio State's Cover 4 Defense, Part 1

Buckeyes Pressing to Make Defense Better

Spring Practice Insider: Defense Keeping Things Aggressive

Meyer Wants One Voice in the Secondary

Coaches Expecting Improvement, Competition in OSU Secondary

Spring Forecast: Cornerback

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