These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.
Seven practices in, with eight practices remaining, including the April 18th spring game. Opportunities to make positive impressions upon the coaching staff regarding the depth chart are becoming scarce.
Earlier in the series, my questions and focus was upon emerging players at backup positions, a clear testament to Ohio State’s depth across the board. The remaining articles will focus upon position areas where Ohio State has lost a player(s) to graduation or eligibility, which is why I have ranked these position groups higher in terms of importance.
3. Cornerback/Defensive Back
Key Players/Contributors Lost: Doran Grant (eligibility); Armani Reeves (injury); Ron Tanner (injury)
Key Players/Contributors Returning: Marshon Lattimore (Redshirt Freshman), Eli Apple (Redshirt Sophomore), Damon Webb (Sophomore), Gareon Conley (Redshirt Sophomore), Cam Burrows (Junior), Vonn Bell (Junior), Malik Hooker (Redshirt Freshman), Tyvis Powell (Redshirt Junior), Erick Smith (Sophomore), Jamel Dean (Freshman)
Cornerback is a relatively strong position for the Ohio State defense, with so much talent on the roster returning or arriving. Eli Apple emerged as a quality starter during the 2014 season, and should be considered one of the leaders of the secondary. Both Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell return at the safety positions.
Doran Grant leaves after a solid career, as he prepares for a selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. Regrettably, Armani Reeves and Ron Tanner both concluded their careers due to concussion-related issues. Both Reeves and Tanner were dependable special team contributors throughout the 2014 season.
Why the concern over cornerback, you ask?
Think back to last season’s Ohio State/Michigan State game in East Lansing. Apple was battling a hamstring injury, and the coaching staff was resting Apple at the onset of the game. Gareon Conley started in Apple’s place, yet the coaching staff felt compelled to get Apple back into the game after Michigan State repeatedly targeted Conley at the beginning of the game.
With the departure of Doran Grant, there is an open spot at the opposite cornerback position. So far during the spring practices, it appears that Gareon Conley is the leader for the open cornerback position.
Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell said today that Gareon Conley looks like a No. 1 corner. Right now, Cam Burrows is the nickel back.
— Ryan Ginn (@RyanGinnBSB) April 2, 2015
Even if Conley is listed as a starter after April 18th, I will not be surprised if this battle continues well throughout the summer and into preseason fall camp. Damon Webb earned playing time as a true freshman last season, and could press Conley for the spot. Marshon Lattimore was redshirted last season due to a recurring hamstring injury. If Lattimore can rebound from his hamstring issues, perhaps he could also press for time; Lattimore was a prize recruit from the 2014 recruiting class.
No matter who wins the spot, Ohio State fans need to be prepared for the likelihood that opposing quarterbacks will likely target that individual when the season begins. After all, Apple has established himself in pass coverage, while Conley, Webb, Lattimore, etc, have not as of yet. Growing pains are customary whenever there are inexperienced players within the defensive secondary.
Will this open cornerback position wind up being an open target for the opposition? Ohio State fans will have to wait and see until the 2015 season commences.