Cornering the Market

By Kyle Rowland on September 24, 2012 at 10:00a

Two weeks ago it was safety Orhian Johnson who made the most of his work with the first-string defense. In that game, against Central Florida, Johnson had six tackles, a pass deflection that led to an interception and a fourth-quarter pick that sealed the Buckeyes’ win. 

In his first start ever, Grant performed like a seasoned vet.

On Saturday, cornerback Doran Grant had an opportunity to positively impact the defense. He did that and more.

In his first career start, the sophomore had seven tackles, including a sack, a fumble recovery, and an interception in Ohio State’s 29-15 win over Alabama-Birmingham. Grant also helped limit UAB wide receiver Jackie Williams nearly 50 yards under his 101-yard average.

A highly touted recruit out of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Grant entered Ohio State last season battling a fellow freshman, Bradley Roby, for a starting corner position. Roby won out, had a solid first season and was branded as the next great in a long line of Ohio State cornerbacks.

It looked like Grant would have to bide his time, probably for at least a year, before receiving a chance to play meaningful snaps. Then Roby suffered a shoulder injury against California. Grant relieved him, and midway through last week he learned he’d get his first career start.

“There really wasn’t any pressure,” Grant said. “Coach (Kerry) Coombs has always prepared me, just in case, for a situation like this, and I think I handled it OK.”

The drop off in play – minimal – from Roby to Grant may come as a surprise to fans and other observers. But Urban Meyer, Coombs and Grant’s teammates knew what they had in reserve – another starter.

Since the outset of the season, Meyer has harped on the fact that he had three No. 1s at cornerback – Roby, Travis Howard and Grant. It just so happens only two of them could share the field.

“We had a lot of confidence putting him in the game,” co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said of Grant. “He’s had good weeks of practice. We just haven’t had many opportunities to throw a second-team guy in the game. This week gave us an opportunity to see if we have depth at that position and we feel like we do now.”

Belief in Grant has also resided in Coombs.

Most athletes carry a sense of nervousness before a monumental event. When you’re a college football player for Ohio State, your first career is start is on that list. But Grant didn’t carry an inkling of uneasiness as he executed his responsibilities in front of more than 105,000 fans in Ohio Stadium.

It didn’t take Grant long to make an impact. In the closing minutes of the first half, with Ohio State up 14-12, UAB had an opportunity to enter the locker room at halftime down two points in a game where it was a 37-point underdog.

But wide receiver Kennar Backman fumbled the football deep in Ohio State territory after Christian Bryant put his helmet on the ball. Grant pounced on it at the 32-yard line, and three plays later Zach Boren stampeded into the end zone. What was once a nine-point Ohio State deficit turned into a nine-point advantage. UAB never got closer than six points in the second half.

“Honestly, I was more excited than nervous,” Grant said about starting. “I was a little nervous, but I was more excited to finally feel I was part of the team.”

In the fourth quarter, Grant became a contributor to a top-10 unit when he intercepted a pass, the Buckeyes’ seventh of the season which places them ninth in the country. Mississippi State leads the nation with nine passes intercepted.

“You have to make plays,” Grant said. “You have to earn your keep. You have to earn your playing time and respect from the older guys and your coaches and just do what you have to do.”

He was talked highly of before Saturday’s game, but the lauding for Grant was based purely on how he performed in practice. Translating that into a game atmosphere is not a given. The fact that Grant was able to do so gives the coaches confidence in the depth at cornerback.

Grant’s performance came on a day when there were four new starters from the previous week on an already beleaguered defense. Joining him were Johnson, Storm Klein and Nathan Williams. Johnson replaced CJ Barnett, who sat out because of a sprained ankle, while Klein supplanted Curtis Grant at middle linebacker and a healthy Williams overtook JT Moore on the defensive line.

Health issues – offense, defense and special teams – have been a common concern for Ohio State since the summer. Because of the mixed-and-mashed defensive unit that’s been thrown together the first four weeks of the season, the Silver Bullets have been more of a rusted variety. Inconsistency has been a near constant talking point.

A healthy defense could eliminate the many miscues. 

The same story played out on Saturday after missed tackles, big chunks of yardage gained by UAB and 403 total yards. The bright spot was no touchdowns given up.

The entire ensemble is yet to be unveiled – defensive lineman Michael Bennett still hasn’t even played a game. When fully healthy, the Buckeye defense is expected to be among the upper echelon of not just the Big Ten but also the entire country.

Thanks to Roby, Howard and now Grant, the creation of turnovers in the secondary has been bountiful. Still, even with a breakout game in his first career start, it isn’t likely that Grant will grab a whole lot of playing time  – if any – from Roby or Howard, whose three interceptions are one behind the national leader.

Peace of mind, however, can be an asset for a coaching staff that needs to know it can trust its backups. The recent spate of injuries leads one to believe it could be an even more grueling November than usual. That’s when bodies in the Big Ten begin taking a toll and breaking down.

The lack of depth at certain positions has been glaring and even led to major miscues on the defensive side of the ball. Meyer sounded somewhat panicked when the subject was brought up in the postgame press conference.

“We have a depth issue here at Ohio State right now, severe,” he said. “But it is what it is.”

He can at least rest easy that any unknowns at cornerback have been put to rest.

“Hopefully this will build confidence for (Grant) and he’ll continue to get better and play better,” Withers said.

If given the opportunity, Grant will approach the game with a calmness and work ethic that doesn’t waver regardless of his position on the depth chart.

Said Grant: “You need to come in and know your work and go 100 percent every time.”


Comments Show All Comments

Boxley's picture

Grant had a stellar first game as a starter and will only get better with more on field time. I love the steady quality play of Garrett Goebel, easily the most underrated player on this team.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

Boxley's picture

Sorry Kyle, I forgot to start with how well I liked the article, instead of offering my trifling thoughts first. Great job.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

carence's picture

I would just like to see the DB's press and jam at the line.

costinjr's picture

I would as well, it might clear up some of our bubble screen issues that seem to be getting opposing teams 4-6 yards of 1st downs.

Culp's Freaking Hill's picture

That combined with awareness of the OLBs can help the screen issues.  Of course, they need to be aware enough to know what will be a screen and what would likely beat them if they bite too hard.  It is something that needs to be worked on, for sure.

Twitter: @conquestnorman

Charlotte Buckeye Chip's picture

The goal is to keep everything in front of us.  It's helping on the scoreboard so far, but we are giving up too many yards. 

~Charlotte Buckeye Chip

GABuckeye's picture

Maybe that's really what they want to do?  Withers did say the only thing he gave a $hit about was how many points they gave up.  I for one don't understand it because I want to see the offense on the field as much as possible scoring points and the defense forcing 3 and outs.... but hey as long as we win, I don't care how it gets done.

DallasTheologian's picture

Great article, and just guessing here, but I would say not the last one to be written on this guy. He has some pretty big time potential.

zachofaltrades's picture

Hopefully Grant's inspired play will push Howard and Roby that much harder, making an already good group that much better.

Brutus The Champ's picture

wow.......storm klien starts at MIKE??!!??!!?.....unbelieveable
..and glad to see nate starting again...this allows simon "the shark", to slide back to his natural spot at strong-end

Brutus is........The People's Champ!!!!

wside buck's picture

I would much rather see Grant playing in the nickel package, along with Roby and Howard, in place of Johnson. I can see what the staff is saying that they have three number 1 corners. He was a game changer against UAB and played with a lot more energy than the rest of the secondary. Definitely needs to see significant play time.

cinserious's picture

If the loss of Bennett is causing this much anguish on the defensive-line, then no its not one of the nation's best units. The secondary has a chance to be special this year and gain some national recognition. Overall, the defense will continue to struggle though, even with Bennett back unless the MLB position gets fixed. Klein sucks, Curtis Grant sucks and why has Conner Crowell not been given a chance at the spot yet?

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

buckeye76BHop's picture

I'm with you Cin...I can't figure this defense out.  Everyone says, "well they're young" or this and that (which are nothing but excuses to me...OSU had 9 coming back as starters...that's not that young).  Even with Bennett at DE as you said...this defense in the middle is horrible.  I was so surprised that C.Grant didn't play...a 5 star LB out of HS and now he can't perform...and Klein is starting???  I'm confused by the lack of production at Mike vexes me to be honest bc OSU has had such good ones over the years.  Now all of a sudden, we don't have any...seems strange and I feel this could be OSU's demise this weekend if others don't step up as leaders at LB.

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

AllDay028's picture

I'd really rather Grant play that Howard. Howard is getting a pass because of his interceptions so far this season but he is easily the worst tackler in the secondary and has blown several coverages.

blazers34's picture

It shouldnt come as too much of a surprise that Grant is playing so well.  He was an all world corner coming out of HS with offers from pretty much everyone.  Just a matter of time and maturation with him.

JarrettC's picture

Why not put all three "number 1's" on the field together in the nickel?  All three are above average tacklers as far as corners are concerned.

AllDay028's picture

I don't think Howard has shown that he's an above average tackler.

741's picture

While I totally agree that Grant's first start was very impressive and I totally agree he will push to take over Howards's starting spot when Roby is healthy, I have to say I'm not sure where all the criticism of Howard (in particular his tacking ability) is coming from. I've not rewatched any of the game films yet (have simply seen all the games in person) and he's not standing out as part of the problem to me - to the contrary, his three INT's, 2 pass break ups, and 5 pass deflections are what stood out to me. 

chitown buckeye's picture

If you re-watch the games you'll see what most people are talking about. While he has had some moments like you spoke of, He has missed many tackles and constantly looks out of position from the television perspective.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

AC1972's picture

^This.  Put the best on the field, and dudes that can tackle.

buckeye76BHop's picture

Nice article man has to step up...and D.Grant did exactly that.

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

cinserious's picture

Looks like current and future DBs at Ohio St. will absolutely thrive under Kerry Coombs and Everett Withers.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

chitown buckeye's picture

I was hoping to see us rotating more on the defensive line. I know Vrable was quoted as saying he doesnt like to do that as much as we have in the past but I think it is going to come back and haunt us later in the season. Get these young freshman studs more seat time. Of course, our guys are in better shape then years past but I think it is important to keep fresh legs coming off the corners.
Edit: Sorry meant to post in other section. But great insight non the less! ;)

"I'm having a heart attack!"

southbymidwest's picture

Thank you for the article Kyle. It is nice to see something positive about a player who has risen to meet the need-am already getting weary of the Debbie Downers who are ripping into players and coaches who are not perfect coming out of the chute (not as much on this site as others, but I find it troubling).

CinncyBuckFan06's picture

How can you not love that picture of Coach Coombs?

MAVBuck's picture

I know this has been discussed before but why not once more. It's been debated who is the real LB "U". I say whether or not we produce LB's like PSU, we definitely produce DB's as good as anyone in the country. Looking at the current roster and seeing Roby, Grant, & Barnett (please start being more consistant) and then considering who is already in the NFL; Jenkins, Coleman, Chekwa, Doss, Winfield, Washington, Clements, Gamble, Whitner, etc. There is no debate on who has a Corner on the Market!!

bassplayer7770's picture

Grant had a great game, and I agree with those who say he could challenge Howard for that starting spot when Roby returns.  I recall Howard missing more than one tackle in the UAB game.  In fact, his tackling looked just awful at times.