“Right now, the guy who performed like a starter is Damon Webb. He had his best stretch of football that I’ve ever seen in him, and I haven’t seen that much, but from what I’ve seen, it was his best stretch of football. He has a look about him, a focus that I think is going to be a huge summer for him. He’s going to come back and have a great senior year.”
With Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley, and Marshon Lattimore all leaving for the NFL following the 2016 season, there will be plenty of new faces in the secondary in 2017. The lone starter from the 2016 team who will be back in the defensive backfield is senior safety Damon Webb. While Hooker, Conley, and Lattimore got most of the publicity, Webb put together a solid season, being named honorable mention All-Big Ten after recording an interception and 52 tackles. Now Webb is earning some high praise from the coaching staff as he heads into his final season in Columbus.
Even though it is just Greg Schiano’s second season on the job at Ohio State, he says that Webb is playing the best football that he has seen from him, and is primed for a big 2017. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs says Webb is probably the smartest player on the defense, and the Buckeyes will definitely need the senior leadership from Webb in a secondary that will feature a lot of youth in 2017. Webb was originally recruited to Ohio State as a cornerback, but with the talent the Buckeyes have had at corner the last few years, it was decided that Webb’s talents would best be utilized at safety. With just one season left with the Buckeyes, Webb hopes that he can put together a strong season, and hopefully join his trio of fellow starters from the 2016 team in the NFL next year.
“I’ve always felt you needed to work the field with a physical running game. You need to be physical and (pass) protect, and then the ball has to get horizontal and vertical. You need to make the defenses defend the width of the field and the length of the field.”
Even though Ohio State brought in another strong recruiting class this year, the most important addition during the offseason for the Buckeyes has been of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. After Ohio State struggled to find their offense for much of the last half of the 2016, Wilson was brought in to try and light a spark under quarterback J.T. Barrett and the rest of the offense. One area where Wilson has already spent a lot of time, is Ohio State’s deep passing attack. Last year Barrett and the Ohio State wide receivers struggled to find any openings down the field. Things have been different during spring practices, with Wilson estimating the Buckeyes completed 40 percent of their deep throws.
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs has noticed a difference in the Ohio State offense during spring practices, with the most notable difference being with the tempo of the offense. Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day tried to utilize the deep passing game in spring practices, hoping to build some confidence inside a wide receiver corps that underperformed last year. With Ohio State already having a strong running game in place, if Wilson can get the Buckeye passing game going and keep opposing defense on their toes, Ohio State will again before a force to be reckoned with in the national title race.
“We might stretch to 10, we might end up going to 10 guys playing, it depends on the situation that we are in. We could see 10 guys playing.”
Ohio State does have areas on defense where they have to replace key contributors from last year, but the defensive line isn’t one of those areas. Last year the Buckeyes were able to rotate six to seven defensive linemen throughout the year, and they’ll likely see that number grow this year. Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard, and Nick Bosa are some of the key defensive linemen returning, and that’s just on the ends of the line. Starters Dre’Mont Jones and Michael Hill also return, along with Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton. Tracy Sprinkle was showing signs of making some noise on the interior of the defensive line before an injury in the season opener sidelined him for the year.
The Buckeyes also have a number of young players who haven’t really seen the field yet who are itching to make a name for themselves. Players like Jashon Cornell, Malik Barrow, Jonathon Cooper, and incoming high school All-American Chase Young all have a bunch of untapped potential which could continue the strong defensive line play after the current starters exhaust their college eligibility. What makes the current rotation of defensive linemen, as well as those who are still fighting for time on the field, so strong is their versatility. With the ability of many of the defensive linemen to play multiple positions, it’ll keep the defensive line fresh and wear on opposing offenses throughout the game. If all these players play up to their potential, it’ll be a long season for the offensive lines going up against the Buckeyes.
“We have the most depth that we’ve had at the position since I’ve been here. I’m extremely excited about the totality of the room.”
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs might not have the number of returning starters that defensive line coach Larry Johnson has, but Coombs is still very impressed by the depth Ohio State has at cornerback. Pretty impressive considering the Buckeyes saw cornerbacks taken in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2014 and 2016, and likely will see at least one taken in the first round of next week’s draft. Coombs essentially considers Denzel Ward a returning starter for the amount of time he spent on the field last year, now the big questions is who will line up opposite Ward.
Redshirt sophomore Damon Arnette impressed during spring practices, but he has a number of incoming cornerbacks who will challenge him for playing time. After originally starting his college career at Alabama, JUCO transfer Kendall Sheffield hopes he can insert himself into the cornerback rotation early on. Top cornerback prospects Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade will challenge Sheffield and certainly make preseason practices interesting when it comes to depth chart positioning. While it isn’t hard to get Coombs excited about anything, it says a lot when he thinks this might be the best batch of corners he has seen since being in Columbus.