Once something is established, it’s hard to go away from it. That’s why Urban Meyer is so adamant about building the culture at Ohio State and relying on it to replenish itself year after year.
One such recent establishment for the Buckeyes is the three-man rotation at cornerback. Finally born a year ago, cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs had been trying to make this happen since he arrived in the spring of 2012. Back then, he wanted sophomore Doran Grant to step up and be a third option with All-Big Ten cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Travis Howard. It never happened.
In 2013, he was unable to find a third to team with Grant and Roby. In 2014, he was hoping to have Gareon Conley and Eli Apple step up and join Grant, but only Apple managed to break through. In 2015, none of the young corners — Marshon Lattimore, Damon Webb, or Denzel Ward — were able to push into a rotation with Apple and Conley. It wasn’t until 2016 that Coombs and his room finally broke through with a true three-man rotation.
And they’re never going back.
“Three or four and then the nickel spot,” Coombs said of the rotation plans this year.
Those first three are junior Denzel Ward, and redshirt sophomores Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield. They are ahead of the rest of the unit, which consists of freshmen Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade, Marcus Williamson, and Amir Riep. Okudah and Wade are both pushing to become that fourth.
“We’ve got some guys that are talented and some young guys that are still learning the culture,” Coombs said. “We’ve got experienced guys that are playing at a really high level. So the plan would be, and I truly believe this and I know you guys always think I’m kidding, I think fast, fresh corners are the most effective way to go. We played a game last year where a team ran three straight vertical goes with three fresh guys on one guy, and that’s a tough way to go. So our plan is to play and have fresh corners on the field all the time.”
Coombs won’t rotate a player in if it makes the unit worse. He won’t let a better player be sent to the bench in favor of a player who isn’t as good.
It’s a lot to ask of a true freshman to break into a rotation with three guys who are expected to be as good as Ward, Arnette, and Sheffield.
These are no ordinary freshmen, however.
“Jeff Okudah’s making a huge push,” Coombs said on Wednesday. “Playing really well the last three days. Shaun Wade’s last two days have been his best two as a Buckeye. Marcus Williamson started off ahead of both of those guys, but he had a little bit of a ding, so he’s missed three practices. Amir because he came in June is just a little bit behind.
“More than anything, the young guys gotta learn the culture of the unit and the culture of the program. And I think when they really, really get that and it becomes part of who they are, it will be a really, really cool thing for them.”