Ohio State Found Success With Cornerback Rotation Last Season; Buckeyes Hope to Replicate Formula in 2017

By Tim Shoemaker on March 20, 2017 at 10:10a
Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward in the Fiesta Bowl.
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2017 Spring Preview

Throughout the buildup to Ohio State’s 2016 season, Kerry Coombs was rather adamant about the situation. The Buckeyes weren’t going to have another year where both starting cornerbacks played over 1,000 snaps. There was going to be a rotation.

Nobody really believed him, though.

Ohio State then rotated Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore, Denzel Ward and Damon Arnette against Bowling Green and Tulsa, which was fine, but those were games in which the Buckeyes dominated. Would Coombs really continue this rotation the following week when Ohio State traveled to Norman for a primetime showdown against Oklahoma? And if so, would it continue beyond that?

The resounding answer to that question was yes. And it extended well beyond that win over the Sooners.

Conley, Lattimore and Ward all played equal snaps for the Buckeyes in 2016. Conley and Lattimore started each game, but it only took one or two series before Ward found himself on the field. It was an incredibly successful approach as Ohio State had one of the best secondaries in the country last season.

Conley and Lattimore each declared early for the NFL Draft and both have the potential to be first-round picks next month. Ward was just a sophomore last season so he wasn’t Draft eligible and he’ll be back as the Buckeyes’ No. 1 corner this fall. Despite those massive losses, however, Ohio State doesn’t plan to change how it uses its cornerbacks.

“I think the way we play defense we’d like to do that,” Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said recently. “We’d like to play more than three or four. We learned a lesson and [2016] was as good of production out of corner anywhere we’ve been.”

Added defensive coordinator Greg Schiano: “It’s critical to be able to do that so that when you get to the latter part of the year, your guys are still able to play at a high, high level. The goal is that you go like this and at the end of the season you’re peaking. We need to be able to do that.”

Of course, personnel will dictate whether or not Ohio State will be capable of rotating cornerbacks again next season. The Buckeyes feel confident with Ward as their No. 1 corner, but beyond that, there are question marks just one week into spring practice.

Arnette saw his snaps decrease as last season went on. He spent the majority of his time as the nickel and slot corner but struggled in that position in a couple of games. He was running with the first-team defense during the first week of spring practice and appears to have the inside track to start opposite Ward, but there are plenty of others who will push him for that position.

Namely, the new additions to Coombs’ meeting room this spring: Shaun Wade, Jeffrey Okudah, Kendall Sheffield and Marcus Williamson. Wade and Okudah were both five-star prospects and Sheffield is in his third year out of high school after enrolling at Alabama for a year and then transferring to junior college last season.

Their development this spring, and throughout the summer heading into fall camp, will determine whether or not Ohio State will be able to use its corners the way it wants.

The formula worked big time for the Buckeyes last season. They’re going to do everything they can to try and duplicate it in 2017.

“Obviously we had great players, but what we ask those guys to do, it’s a track meet for four hours,” Meyer said. “If you can get a little rotation in there, you’re going to be much better.”

“The thing as coaches you can’t do is force something to happen,” Schiano added. “But we are sure that we recruited well enough that we can do those types of rotations.”

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