One of Kerry Coombs’ favorite staples during his first go-round at Ohio State was rotating three cornerbacks throughout a game in order to keep them all fresh for the game and for the season.
It took a few years for him to actually get to that point, but it was effective when it was finally implemented.
With the amount of press-man coverage the Buckeyes played, keeping players fresh was paramount. A lot was asked of the corners, which is why Coombs tried to limit the amount of snaps that the starters played.
Following Coombs’ departure to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, one of the first questions asked of new secondary coach Jeff Hafley was whether or not he would continue the rotation. He admitted to being puzzled by it when he was in the NFL, asking Buckeye cornerbacks like Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward during the draft process why they were getting benched every third series.
Hafley ended up discontinuing the rotation, but he still found time for plenty of quality snaps for backups Cameron Brown, Sevyn Banks, and Amir Riep.
Now that Coombs has returned to Ohio State, however, he is also planning to return to his rotation.
“I absolutely anticipate doing it,” Coombs said on Wednesday. “I think you gotta get your best players on the field, but I also think you gotta keep fast, fresh players on the field. And I think that for the sake of continuity and a program over the course of years, guys need to play.”
As Coombs has argued since he was finally able to implement his rotation, nobody questions why the defensive line rotates. The principle remains the same at the front end as it does the back end. The more you can substitute and rotate, the better your fourth quarter defense is going to be.
But there won’t be a rotation if the players aren’t good enough to play.
“I have every expectation of playing multiple players in the back end. They gotta be good enough to play,” he said. “The performance of the unit cannot go down when they go on the field. So you can’t say, ‘We’re just playing them to play them.’ They’ve gotta be capable, confident players. But I have every expectation of playing a lot of guys in the back end.”
Expecting to play a rotation of three cornerbacks one season after losing two starters is a bold goal, but finding a new duo to create a trio is something that he has managed before.
Following the departure of Eli Apple after the 2015 season, the Buckeyes were returning Gareon Conley as a starter, but then Coombs was also able to add future first-rounders Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward into the mix.
Like Conley in 2016, Shaun Wade is the lone returning starter headed into 2020. Expecting Lattimore and Ward 2.0 to show up this season might be a bit wishful, but Coombs still has every confidence that there is enough talent on hand to rotate three outside corners.
“First of all, because they’re great players, okay? I’ve watched them. I recruited a bunch of them. I know who they are,” he said. “I’ve watched them work out the last couple of days. I’ve watched their tape. These guys got to play a lot of ball last year, which is outstanding, right? You got guys who weren’t starters, they get 250-300 plays of football at high levels and critical games. And so I’m excited about that.
“But I’ve had a good chance to meet with these kids. I know what they’re made of. A lot of them I’ve known from when they were in high school, and I’m very excited about them. Don’t worry about them. We’re gonna be just fine.”