Who Replaces Doran Grant, Who Was Perhaps the Most Underrated Player from Ohio State's 2014 Season?

By Patrick Maks on February 26, 2015 at 2:15 pm

In his time at Ohio State, Doran Grant made a name for himself as a stone-faced, serious man of few words who hailed from Akron, Ohio, a place he vowed to make proud at the inception of team's 2014 campaign. 

Before the Buckeyes' training camp in August, Grant checked into the team hotel wearing a Nike tank top that read “Summit County” and a Script Ohio flat bill hat. It was there where he talked of leadership aspirations and brought a handmade poster from his summer internship with the Boys & Girls Club of Columbus. 

Grant said it was a "goodbye poster they made me for me on my last day so I brought it for motivation. I miss those dudes."

He added: “Working with them all summer, they look up to you and you wanna do good." 

When it was all said and done, Grant emerged as a national champion and top leader on a team that had rallied past significant challenges (namely, the loss of two starting quarterbacks in three months) to capture college football's grandest prize.

At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week, Grant told reporters coach Urban Meyer and the coaching staff "challenged me to step out of my shell."

"It really worked for the better for the whole team," he said. He added: “I feel like verbally, my last two years — junior and senior year — is when I really stepped out of my shell,” he said. “I always led by example. I always did everything right."

It's become a selling point for Grant as he tries to impress potential suitors.

“I know NFL teams want leadership, they want grown men on their team, and I think I can provide that also," he said. "I've won everywhere I've been."

That includes the combine's on-field drills at Lucas Oil Stadium. Grant ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 21 times and impressed teams with his statue-like physique. While his size (5 foot 10, 200 pounds) and what draft analysts have dubbed to be a lack of elite speed to keep pace with the league's top receivers make it hard to tell where he'll go in the NFL Draft this spring, Grant said he was essentially flying under the radar. 

"It's only a matter of time," he told reporters. "That's why I'm not really nervous about anything, I'm just going to do what I can do and the future will come.”

And in a way, Grant kind of spent his time with the Buckeyes under the radar, too. He wasn't unappreciated, but it wasn't like Grant gained the spotlight that Bradley Roby did the year earlier. He was quieter, on and off the field. 

For as bad as Ohio State's pass defense was in 2013 (Meyer, for example, called the display "abysmal" among other things before vowing to overhaul the unit), the Buckeyes 29th, giving up about 200 yards a game (compare to a 112th finish the year before).

The improvement was, in part, thanks to Chris Ash, the new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, who installed a new scheme and new energy in regards to the pass defense. To be sure, though, it was Grant who helped spearhead that effort.

Last season, three performances seem to stand out (though there are probably more):

Grant vs. Mekale McKay (Ohio State vs. Cincinnati): In what was the first sizable challenge for Ohio State's new-look pass defense, the Buckeyes got torched for 352 yards and four touchdowns. It feels like an ancient memory, but most of that total came from three huge plays, where quarterback Gunner Kiel played pitch-and-catch with a wide-open Chris Moore.

Yet before the contest, it was senior wide receiver and Arkansas transfer Mekale McKay who had the Buckeyes concerned. The talented 6-foot-6 receiver would be matched up against the smaller Grant, and in the Bearcats' pass-happy offense, he was considered a top priority. Instead, McKay was a non-factor on that night in September. He had one catch for 11 yards.

Grant vs. Tony Lippett (Ohio State vs. Michigan State): Against the Spartans in East Lansing, Ohio State's once-maligned defense flustered Michigan State's powerful passing attack en route to a 49-37 win. In particular, Grant played a critical role in stifling the conference's top wide receiver in Tony Lippett. 

"He was chirping off at the mouth in the beginning, but as the game started going he was like, 'Hold up,'" Grant told Cleveland.com after the game. "I never let it faze me. He's a great player, obviously, the leading receiver in the Big Ten, it was a great battle out there." 

Grant held Lippett to five catches for 64 yards and zero touchdowns. 

Grant vs. Amari Cooper (Ohio State vs. Alabama): In what was a monumental win against the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, Grant was charged with primarily shadowing Amari Cooper, the nation's best wide receiver.

Cooper caught nine passes and had two touchdowns, but only amassed 71 yards. There was a moment where Grant's error led to a Cooper touchdown in the second quarter, but as a whole, the cornerback helped lock down a player who made a living terrorizing opposing pass defenses.

Cooper wasn't able to past and through Ohio State's defense, like he had done in weeks before against Auburn and Missouri. Because of this, Alabama's offense, one that had started to boom with the pass game connection between Cooper and quarterback Blake Sims, sputtered. 

So here's the $1 million question: Who replaces Grant, who had such a vital role in Ohio State's dramatic turnaround in the pass defense. 

At the moment, it seems cornerbacks Gareon Conley, Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore will do battle to play aside Eli Apple, the redshirt freshman who came on strong last season. Other contenders will likely join the mix, too. 

All are regarded to be talented players.

All are inexperienced. 

The Buckeyes will surely move on without Grant, but they'll probably miss him at least for a little bit, too.

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