It was Bradley Roby and Doran Grant.
Heading into last football season, the cornerback position at Ohio State had been decided — there were no ifs, ands or buts about it. Then-redshirt-junior Roby had earned his spot the season before and then-junior Grant was tapped to replace Travis Howard in the lineup.
But on July 21, a wrench was thrown into that plan. With Roby facing charges of misdemeanor battery in Monroe County, Ind., someone had to step up and take his place in the starting lineup as he served his one-game suspension from coach Urban Meyer.
That player was Armani Reeves. The then-sophomore cornerback made his first career start against Buffalo Aug. 31 in a 40-20 win.
Although Reeves didn’t see much of the field for much of the remainder of the season — he was forced to watch from the bench behind Roby in the depth chart — he heads into the 2014 season, alongside Grant, as one of the two expected starters at corner.
“I feel ready,” Reeves said Thursday. “I feel confident. I think that’s half the battle when you’re corner, just know that you can do the jobs … I’m going to play with confidence and I know I can do this job, so I’m not worried at all.”
Starting three games last season — against Buffalo, San Diego State Sept. 7 and Clemson in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl Jan. 3 — Reeves recorded 16 solo tackles last season and had an interception.
Reeves returns to a unit that lost Roby as well as safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, a unit that finished the year ranked 112th in the country in pass defense.
But Reeves said he feels he has fit into the starting line well, and knows his teammates have confidence in him to replace Roby.
“I feel like they see a good side of me. I try to be a nice person so that helps,” Reeves said. “We’re all working really hard, and when you have confidence in each other that just makes a defense that much better … When I have confidence in the D-line and they have confidence in me, that makes it so much easier to do your job.”
Reeves added that poor numbers from last season will serve as a drive to improve for the Buckeyes in the upcoming season.
“I wouldn’t say it hurts, I would say it motivates us,” Reeves said. “Obviously everybody knows the pass defense last year, it had its ups and downs. This year we’ve got a fresh start and we’re going to come out hungry. Only thing that can do is to motivate you to play better than you did last year.”
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said Reeves will be successful because he works harder than anybody else on the field, going as far as to say Reeves “became the standard.”
“Anybody that’s watched him play … You never have a question about how hard he’s going to go,” Coombs said. “So he’s already got that, and what a great thing for him. Right? So when I walk into my meeting room and I say, ‘OK, who’s the hardest playing guy in this room?’ Day one, that’s what I asked my guys in my unit, and they all said ‘Armani.’”
Like many of the other players, Reeves is having to make the transition from a member of the younger group to a seasoned veteran who has more responsibility on his shoulders this year.
In years past, Reeves said Roby was the person he always looked to, but now he has to teach some of the lessons the NFL-bound cornerback taught him.
“It’s definitely weird because I looked up to him (Roby), he’s like my older brother … It’s kind of weird not having him here anymore, but I take the things that he taught me and put it to the younger guys and do the same thing that he did (for) me,” Reeves said. “There (were) times where we’ll be out here, just talking football, just trying to get me better and that’s what I try to do with the young guys … He’s one of the greatest DBs we’ve ever had here, and obviously I want the young guys and myself to be one of the greatest when we leave.”
Grant, who started all 14 games last season, said Reeves is prepared to take that next step and be a go-to starter for the Buckeyes.
“I feel like he’s ready. He’s been playing well this spring,” Grant said Thursday. “He’s been working hard in the offseason, training, taking coaching. He’s leading also, his voice is up, passing the energy … And he has the experience also.”
Even though Reeves is likely to be the starter opposite Grant, there is no guarantee he will see as much of the field as starters have in the past.
With young players like redshirt-freshmen Eli Apple and Gareon Conley, as well as incoming freshmen Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore, Coombs said he plans on playing more than just two corners.
“We’re going to play more than two, Gareon is right in the mix, Eli Apple has had a very good spring,” Coombs said Thursday. “He’s over some health issues that really had gone undetected. So I’m really excited about that and I’m eager. And I tell you what, those two freshmen coming in are going to have a chance to play. We’re going to play more than two corners that’s for sure.”
Although Reeves will likely be on the field when the season starts Aug. 30 against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, he isn’t likely to be truly tested in that game. The Midshipmen were one of only two teams in the country who averaged less than 100 yards per game through the air last season, finishing 124th in the country.
But Reeves said when it comes to next season, as long as the effort is there, the defense will be up to standards.
“We’ll get there,” Reeves said. “It’s a process. We just put a lot of new things in and we’ll get there. I’m not worried about it at all. As long as we play hard right now, that’s all we can ask for.”
Kickoff for the season opener is set for noon.