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Gareon Conley confident in young secondary; Malik Hooker

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OSU redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker (24) carries the ball after an interception during the spring game on April 16 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Lantern file photo

OSU redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker (24) carries the ball after an interception during the spring game on April 16 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Lantern file photo

Last season was a standout year for the Ohio State secondary. The Buckeyes excelled in 2015 with the likes of now NFL players Vonn Bell and Eli Apple. Redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley is now the veteran member of the unit—and only returning starter—with fans eager to see how he and the rest of the defensive backs will respond to the immense pressure of living up to expectations.

Conley had a solid 2015 campaign where he recorded two interceptions and 49 tackles and earned high praise from the OSU coaching staff. During his freshman campaign, he also found his way into a role with the special teams, and he contributed as a reserve cornerback.

Coach Urban Meyer believes Conley is the next cornerback in a lineage of NFL-ready players

“Gareon is playing, man, he’s playing at a high, high level right now,” Meyer said. “He’s an NFL corner someday.”

With Conley the go-to guy, the secondary for the Scarlet and Gray has a scarcity of snaps played under their belts. The young players will turn to the now No. 1 defensive back for guidance, and Conley feels ready for the challenge.

“It’s going to be a great challenge because I got a lot of guys who I’ve gotta bring up,” Conley said. “I just gotta help the guys right now learn the game.”

Even though the task is tall, Conley feels the unit will respond to the pressure with poise, and there should be no drop off from last year’s secondary.

“They all play at a high level already,” Conley said. “It’s just getting that experience right now so we can be ready for that first game.”

One of the top candidates for the secondary for OSU, redshirt sophomore Marshon Lattimore, is coming off a season-ending hamstring injury. The injury ultimately led to a redshirt season for the Cleveland native, but his teammates expect he won’t be affected in 2016.

“When he’s out there, he’s going full speed,” Conley said. “He looks real good. You can’t even tell when he’s out there.”

Of all the candidates to start as a defensive back for the Scarlet and Gray, Conley said redshirt sophomore Malik Hooker has been one of the top performers of the summer so far.

Hooker played in all 13 games last season, where he earned 10 total tackles on the year. He was listed as the No. 1 safety in the spring and has been named as a possible replacement for Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell.

“(Hooker), that’s my best friend,” Conley said. “He’s always been a great athlete. I say he’s one of the best on the team. His game right now, he’s playing at a high level. Off the charts.”

The former New Castle, Pennsylvania, standout wide receiver and cornerback knows he has plenty of expectations by coaches and players. However, Hooker said he feels the backing of Conley is a testament to the effort he has put forth during the offseason, and his teammate’s confidence will keep him putting forth as much effort as possible.

“For (Conley) to be a major key in the defense this year and last year, to say something like that just motivates me to work even harder and be the best I can be for the defense,” Hooker said.

While starters have yet to be named for most of the team, Hooker appears to have an edge with two weeks before the season starts. Only time will tell if OSU enjoys another year of dominance in the secondary.

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