After Finding Success With Its Cornerbacks, Ohio State Not Ruling Out Rotation at Safety

By Tim Shoemaker on April 3, 2017 at 10:10 am
Safety Damon Webb during one of Ohio State's spring practices.
2017 Spring Preview

Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Denzel Ward gave Ohio State a three-man rotation at cornerback last season most teams can’t match. The production from all three was off the charts and the Buckeyes were able to keep their top three corners fresh throughout the course of the season thanks to the formula.

Lattimore and Conley are both gone now — and both will likely be first-round picks in next month’s NFL Draft — but Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said recently the plan is for the Buckeyes to once again rotate this fall at the position.

“All of them can play. I’m not kidding you,” Coombs said of his unit Thursday. “By Aug. 31, I truly believe they will all be ready to play and we will play them in some way shape or form if they continue to develop on this path.”

With Ward, Damon Arnette, Kendall Sheffield and more, it doesn’t seem that crazy Coombs intends to play so many corners this fall. But that spot may not be the only place Ohio State rotates next season.

The defensive line will obviously rotate fresh bodies in and out nearly every series, but Coombs mentioned another position that may see some rotation: safety. With Erick Smith, Jordan Fuller and Damon Webb all reportedly having strong springs, Coombs hinted at a possible rotation there, as well.

“When you have a talented team, the more guys you can play, keep fresh, keep healthy and get experience, the better you’re going to be defensively,” Coombs said. “I would say there’s no reason to say those three kids can’t do the same thing in the back end.”

Webb started at one of the safety spots last season alongside projected top-10 pick Malik Hooker. He has been running with the first-team defense throughout spring practice thus far but said Thursday his starting spot isn’t even set in stone yet.

“Right now, we don’t have no starters, even me,” Webb said. “It’s a great competition and we’re just trying to get better each and every day.”

Fuller echoed that sentiment.

“We’re all competing,” he said. “There’s no job solidified right now.”

Perhaps by the time Ohio State actually has to play a game, there will be. Perhaps one or two safeties emerge as players who simply can’t be taken off the field. If not, though, and there’s no real separation between any of the candidates for the position, a rotation may not be a bad idea.

“Maybe we’ll do that at safety. There’s no rule that says you can only play two safeties,” defensive coordinator and safeties coach Greg Schiano said recently. “We’ll see. Every year is different. The thing as coaches you can’t do is force something to happen, but we are sure that we recruited well enough that we can do those types of rotations.”

It’s the first week of April. Ohio State doesn’t play a game until the final day in August. There is plenty of time between now and then for this situation to figure itself out.

But it sounds like the Buckeyes might have another one of those good problems on their hands.

“I think it’s great because it’s keeping everybody on their toes,” Fuller said. “Everybody’s competing hard. Maybe if there was a true starter we would be a little more chill or something like that, but it’s not like that at all.”

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