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Meet Ohio State’s fastest player, cornerback Denzel Ward

Denzel Ward may have Ohio State’s ‘Fastest Player’ championship belt, but that’s not all Ward can do

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Notre Dame vs Ohio State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Speed, for lack of a better word, is good. Never in the cherished history of football has a player been benched or booed for being too fast. Sure, even the fastest players can mess up big time thanks to limited strength or poor mental awareness of how they need to use their speed, but all else equal: speed is a very good thing to possess on the football field.

There is one particular position on the Ohio State defense where having speed is absolutely vital. Playing cornerback in Ohio State’s press man/quarters scheme consists of playing man-to-man coverage with no safety help over the top for the majority of a game. One wrong step at the line of scrimmage, or a good move by the receiver, can be the difference between an incompletion and a long touchdown...for most cornerbacks. For others? Mistakes are erased instantaneously thanks to a little thing called pure speed.

"Makeup speed is important...When you do what we do, if you make a mistake and you don't have makeup speed, you're in trouble. And he's got it."

-Ohio State Cornerbacks Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Kerry Coombs

Sophomore cornerback Denzel Ward is the fastest player on the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ward is also one of the few players under head coach Urban Meyer that managed to not forgo a red-shirt year. Once you see Ward in action, it’s easy to see why Meyer and company felt the need to get Ward on the field as soon as possible.

Typically the goal of a kick-off unit is to pin the return team inside their own 20. For Ohio State’s personal set of piranhas, the goal might as well be the 10 yard line with the kind of speed that is put on the field during kick-offs. Gone are the days of lumbering linebackers and full-backs running down the field on kick-off. It’s now a race to the goal line for only the fastest Silver Bullets, and that’s a race that Denzel Ward made a habit of winning in 2015.

Ward is the heat-seaking missile coming in from the middle of the screen, and he records one of his seven career tackles in quick fashion, limiting the Notre Dame returner to under 10 yards on early kick return. It’s likely that Ward’s speed will once again be on display after every Buckeyes’ score, and it turns out that this ability to be the fastest man on the field comes in handy while playing defense as well.

"We wear those things, those chips in the shoulder pads and we go to the NFL stadiums — he was 21.8 mph for a couple of reps last year....The fastest on the team. So, he can go."

-Ohio State Cornerbacks Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Kerry Coombs

The issue for Ward isn’t his physical makeup, it just may be the solemn reality that everyone except 22 players are going to feel underutilized at a school with as much talent as Ohio State. While Eli Apple has found a new home as the New York Giants’ number one draft pick, returning starting cornerback Gareon Conley returns and is ready to take over as the Buckeyes’ new number one lockdown corner.

As for the number two corner spot? That’s where things are a bit more murky at the moment. Fall practice should produce a clear winner, but for now it appears to be a toss up between Ward and Cleveland Glenville’s own Marshon Lattimore. Ward possesses the speed advantage, but if Lattimore can finally rid himself of what appears to be chronic hamstring problems, the more physical 6’1 195 lb corner could very well win the starting spot across from Conley.

Luckily for Ward, even if he fails to win the starting spot, it’s going to be hard to keep this guy off of the field for too long. While Ward is relatively undersized at 5’11 180 lbs, you would never make the mistake of doubting his willingness to make a big hit.

Ohio State’s new starting running back Mike Weber paid the price after fighting for extra yardage, and while it’s clear that Ward benefits from hitting a running back who has lost most of his forward momentum, it’s still encouraging to see an undersized corner like Ward have this level of willingness when taking a running back to the ground. Ward went on to sack J.T Barrett via a corner blitz on the next play, providing more evidence towards the notion that Ward has the ability to not be physically over-matched on defense.

"Straightline speed, he's as fast as anybody we've had...(Bradley) Roby was the fastest guy we had in the back end and he's close to that."

-Ohio State Cornerbacks Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Kerry Coombs

On a roster full of mysteries, it is comforting to know that Denzel Ward is the type of freaky fast corner that can change a game in an instant. While not necessarily true in real life, in football: if you are going to make a mistake, you should make that mistake at full speed. Hesitation is every football player’s kryptonite, and all the makeup speed in the world won’t be enough to cover up for constant indecision.

That’s what makes Ward such an early bright spot for the 2016 Ohio State Buckeyes. Ward may still be a year away from locking up a full-time starting spot, but when Ward finds his way onto the field, pay attention, because something exciting is about to happen, and it’s going to happen fast.