COLUMBUS, Ohio — Few schools have consistently produced quality cornerbacks like Ohio State has over the years. The NFL has been the recipient of many of them, and they will no doubt be the recipient of many more.
OSU Spring Forecast: Cornerback
By Tony Gerdeman
Currently, however, the position is in a bit of an upheaval. Three-year starter Bradley Roby is gone, and left behind is one proven cornerback. There was plenty of criticism aimed at Roby last season, as well as the lack of depth behind him. The bad news is that Roby is now gone, but the good news is that the depth should be improved.
At Ohio State there are always stars waiting to shine, but they just have to go out and do it. This spring there are going to be quite a few cornerbacks who will finally have that opportunity, and it should be very enlightening to watch it happen.
Who's Coming Back?
The spring depth chart at cornerback is going to be pretty thin this year. With the announced move of Cameron Burrows to nickel/safety, there will only be four scholarship cornerbacks on the spring roster.
Last year's lone returning starter Doran Grant (5-11 191) had a very good season, earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors. He should have an even better 2014 and will be a threat for First-Team accolades.
At the spot opposite Grant will be three players battling for snaps. Junior Armani Reeves (5-10 198) is the only other cornerback on the roster who has played in a college football game. Because of his experience, he might be expected to have an advantage.
If Reeves doesn't have that advantage it will be because of the talent and potential of a pair of redshirt freshmen ready for their shot. Gareon Conley (6-2 185) is long and athletic, and Eli Apple (6-1 194) is fast and aggressive. Either of the two could very well emerge to start next to Grant.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is absolutely expecting Doran Grant to pick up right where he left off last season when he was arguably Ohio State's best cornerback. He will be looking for Grant to take that next step and move from solid to spectacular.
It will be necessary for Armani Reeves to show that he can be more consistent than he has been thus far in his career. He has had solid moments, but needs more of them. If he can't hold off the redshirt freshmen, his snaps on defense could be significantly up.
Coombs has pressure on himself to have both Gareon Conley and Eli Apple ready, and both will enter spring football believing that they should have been playing last year. This will be their opportunity to show it.
Each of Conley, Apple and Reeves will likely get snaps with the first team. Meyer wants to know who his starters are going to be once the spring is over, and everybody will be given a long look because of the importance of the position.
Best Case Scenario
The Buckeyes need Doran Grant to play like the senior he will be, and to be one of the team's leaders. His ascension to the cornerback throne at Ohio State needs to be emphatic and without any doubts. Perhaps more than that, however, the Buckeyes need a second cornerback to step up.
In a perfect world, they'll find three cornerbacks for two spots. They love the potential of both Gareon Conley and Eli Apple, and they would welcome a situation where Coombs and Chris Ash can't say no to either of them. Further, an improved Armani Reeves would certainly ease some defensive concerns.
One to Watch For
With just four names to choose from, let's talk about Eli Apple. Apple was one of the top cornerback recruits in the nation in the 2013 class, and most expected him to see the field last year. That didn't happen, and some fans may already by ready to move on. That would be a mistake.
Apple is a tall cornerback who is drawn to contact. He is big enough to match up against the taller receivers, yet fast and quick enough to match with the speedsters in the slot. If you took a straw poll asking who will win the job opposite Doran Grant, Apple would be a pretty good bet to win that poll.
Trending Up or Down
Even with the criticism that Bradley Roby took from the fans last season, his departure is not a positive for this football program. When you consider Roby's absence along with the fact that there's only four scholarship cornerbacks on the roster, this position is definitely trending down.
Just because the arrow is pointed down at the moment doesn't mean there won't be some good times ahead. This is still Ohio State, and the one thing OSU has always been able to do is find cornerbacks.
The cornerback position will be trending up soon because of the talent that is being brought in. There are some very hungry cornerbacks on the roster, and because of the lack of numbers, they are all finally going to get to a chance to eat. There will be some impressive moments in practice and there will be some mistakes, but with every snap the position gets better.
While there will be just four cornerbacks on the roster this spring, two more will be coming in the summer, which will make the competition all the better. The two incoming freshmen, Marshon Lattimore (6-0 178) and Damon Webb (5-10 179) are two of the best in the nation, which is why the time is now for somebody to step up and win a spot.
Previous Spring Position Forecasts:
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