CHICAGO — Joshua Perry didn't hesitate.
Perry hardly — if ever — fouls up his words, regardless the topic. One of the most well-spoken and smartest players on Ohio State's football team, Perry was a no-brainer to speak at the Big Ten Media Days Luncheon Friday.
A day earlier, though, he was prompted with a question about young players on his defensive unit who could undergo a breakout season this fall, the year the Buckeyes hope to defend their 2014 national championship.
"The one name that people are a little bit iffy on is Gareon Conley, because he didn't play a ton last year and people got the impression about him," Perry said. "But that kid, the way he's worked this summer and some of the things he's been through in his development right now is huge."
That "impression" Perry spoke of stemmed from Ohio State's Nov. 8 tilt at Michigan State from this past season. That bout was one the Buckeyes eventually won 49-37 in East Lansing, Mich., to all but punch their ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Ohio State played outstanding football that day, but Conley had a night to forget.
Starting in place of an injured Eli Apple, Conley got burnt on Michigan State's first drive by Spartan quarterback Connor Cook for a 44-yard completion. Then, Conley failed on a tackle attempt of Keith Mumphery, who ran right through him and scored a touchdown.
"What happened when you went out on the field last year? They came right at you, play two," Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said this spring of Conley. "It took them one play to find him and he knows that."
Apple was reinserted to the lineup following that drive, needing to be opposite of Doran Grant even with a tender hamstring. It was too big of a game to not have the best players on the field.
We didn't see the now sophomore too much following that game, except for special teams where his tremendous speed was an outstanding asset. He hasn't yet been named the starter at corner for the Buckeyes — getting pushed by Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore — but the spot is there for the taking and Conley appears to be doing his very best to fully grasp it.
"Gareon Conley has outstanding potential," head coach Urban Meyer said Thursday, adding the cornerback has a chance to be a Darron Lee-type for the 2015 squad — a guy who stands out off the depth chart and has a breakout year.
Conley's got a new number (No. 8) — something that doesn't happen under Meyer unless you've got things figured out — and was recently seen catching a football while completing a backflip after a workout.
Ohio State opens fall camp Aug. 10 and Conley is all but assured the initial crack at the first-team defensive reps, just like he had throughout spring drills. The Buckeyes visit Virginia Tech Sept. 7 to open their season, doing so without Joey Bosa, the All-American defensive end who will sit out after "violation a department policy."
They can't afford to have any holes on defense if they wish to take down the only team that beat them a year ago.
If Thursday is any indication, Conley's taken the proper steps this summer to make noise at corner this year.
"He's going to be a great player for us," Perry said.