Entering its second season under coach Urban Meyer, the Ohio State football team had high expectations of its secondary.
There were three returning starters, including a preseason All-American in cornerback Bradley Roby, and only one fresh face in then-junior cornerback Doran Grant.
But now, after suffering a subpar season in 2013 and finishing No. 112 in the country in pass defense, OSU and Grant are on the opposite end of where they were last year.
Now there’s one returning starter, the once new face in Grant, and a wealth of younger players looking to fill the gaps.
“You can feel it. It’s a lot of young guys in the room besides me and (junior cornerback) Armani (Reeves),” Grant said April 3. “But that’s just me, I have to pick up my leadership and pick up my level of play so we can be successful this season.”
Grant, the only Buckeye in the secondary to start all 14 games last season, said even though he was the one constant in 2013, he didn’t play great.
“During the start of the season, I was a little shaky and I started to pick it up towards the end,” Grant said. “I just felt like I was average, I know what I’ve got to do this offseason to become an All-Big Ten player, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
If Grant can live up to his goals, he will become the 16th different Buckeye defensive back to be named first or second team All-Big Ten since 2003, a list that includes names like Roby, Chimdi Chekwa, Kurt Coleman, Malcolm Jenkins and Will Allen.
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said Grant was better than billed last season, but has managed to improve by leaps and bounds so far this spring.
“He was better than average last year,” Coombs said of the senior cornerback. “His improvement this year has been dramatic. I’m excited to see him play. He is a young man with incredible athletic ability. His combine-type numbers are going to match those of many of the great corners in the country today and those that have played here.”
But even with the growth, Coombs said he has noticed a few flaws that are holding Grant back.
“And yet at the same time, there have been little glitches that have prevented him from achieving success that those numbers would indicate. And really that’s my job. So we’ve spent a lot of time this offseason exploring all of the techniques and different things that are hopefully going to help him improve and I think he’s got a real focus and dedication to that. I’m really excited to watch him,” Coombs said.
Grant said he can improve by just fixing small mistakes he made last season.
“Just work on the little things again, just recognize formations and playing the ball,” Grant said.
Saturday marks the end of spring practice for OSU with the annual Spring Game, which is set to kick off at Ohio Stadium at approximately 1:30 p.m. Even though Grant is set to still play cornerback, the position might have an entirely different feel for the returning starter.
The OSU defense runs a scheme for its corners known as boundary field, where one player takes the part of the field closer to the sideline (boundary) and the other takes the part with a more open field (field).
Coombs said Grant, who played field in 2013, is likely to be the boundary corner in the upcoming season, and that switch has changed things off the field as well.
“Our defense and our scheme, when you move over to that boundary corner, your responsibility changes, and it increases,” Coombs said. “You’re taking on a different demeanor in everything that you do. So your style of play has to change, your responsibilities change and that carries over into the weight room and everything else. Film study and those types of things. To me, that’s where his focus has been this offseason in preparing to play that position.”
Grant will look to step into his new position, and start his road to achieving his goal of being an All-Big Ten selection, Aug. 30 when OSU takes on Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Kick off is scheduled for noon.