Spring Rewind: What We Learned About Ohio State's Secondary

By Tim Shoemaker on April 26, 2017 at 10:10 am
Ohio State safeties coach talks to Kendall Sheffield at the spring game.

No other unit on Ohio State's defense was more intriguing this spring than the secondary.

The Buckeyes lost three projected first-round picks in Thursday's NFL Draft and the big question prior to spring practice was how Ohio State planned to replace them.

There isn't a definitive answer yet, but the picture is becoming clearer.

Let's break down the meeting rooms of both Kerry Coombs and Greg Schiano a bit more in depth, shall we?


Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley's early departure to the NFL left Ohio State without two first-round cornerbacks on its roster. The Buckeyes had one replacement on their roster they felt more than confident in, but finding a second — and even a third — corner was critically important this spring.

Denzel Ward played a similar number of snaps last season as both Conley and Lattimore. Coombs considered him a third starter cornerback a year ago and, now a junior, Ward is ready to become Ohio State's next No. 1 corner.

But with all the success the Buckeyes had a year ago with a three-man rotation at corner, it was imperative Ohio State found at least two players in addition to Ward it feels confident in playing. Heading out of spring practice, the two frontrunners for the second and third spots in the rotation are Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield.

"I won’t pretend to tell you what the depth chart looks like other than to say that Arnette had a fantastic spring. He is going to be in the mix," Coombs said. "Sheffield had a fantastic spring. He is going to be in the mix."

But Coombs also feels his meeting room is the deepest it has been in his tenure. That's in large part because of the new additions to Ohio State: freshman early enrollees Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson. Those three along with sophomore Rodjay Burns give the Buckeyes potential to go beyond that three-man rotation.

All four will battle for playing time, according to Coombs.

"We have the most depth that we’ve had at the position since I’ve been here. I’m extremely excited about the totality of the room," Coombs said. "Wade, Williamson, Okudah and Burns are all going to be competing along with Amir Riep for playing time. They’re going to play."


Ohio State also had to replace another first-round talent at safety as Malik Hooker will hear his name called early Thursday evening. That's no small task, of course, as Hooker exploded onto the scene in 2016 as an All-American and the Buckeyes' best defensive player.

But Ohio State did return its other starting safety in Damon Webb and Schiano said this spring Webb really solidified himself in the back end of the defense.

"Right now, the guy who performed like a starter is Damon Webb," Schiano said. "He had his best stretch of football that I've ever seen in him, and I haven't seen that much, but from what I've seen, it was his best stretch of football. He has a look about him, a focus that I think this is going to be a huge summer for him. He's going to come back and have a great senior year."

The Buckeyes' other starting safety spot is wide open, however. And while Schiano didn't rule out the possibility of a three-man rotation at safety similar to the one Ohio State uses with its cornerbacks, right now the frontrunners to land the other starting spot are sophomore Jordan Fuller and senior Erick Smith. Each spent time running with the first-team defense this spring.

Schiano also mentioned Jahsen Wint, Wayne Davis — who moved from corner this spring — and early enrollee Isaiah Pryor as players who will battle for playing time.

"The good thing is we know we have a guy, one proven guy who really got better," Schiano said. "We need to find that second guy and like you said, if there's a third, then we play three."

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