The only returning starter in the secondary for Ohio State football — junior Gareon Conley — has logged 28 games for the Buckeyes through his three years in Columbus. That experience will come in handy when Conley takes over the role of primary cornerback for OSU this season, but there are still question marks as to who will take over the second corner spot.
Although the Buckeyes have multiple available cornerbacks, two corners that have made a splash during camp this season are redshirt sophomore Marshon Lattimore and sophomore Denzel Ward.
OSU coach Urban Meyer and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs spoke highly of both men, but were hesitant to put one in front of the other. The two coaches mentioned there could be a rotation at the second cornerback position. For now, the focus is more team oriented than on the individual.
“We don’t really try to go against each other,” Lattimore said. “We just try to get better defensively, or as a unit.”
Ward said he understands in the end it comes down to who can be the player that puts the team in the best position, but said the unit must stay close-knit if they want to produce similar numbers to last season.
“We help each other out so much,” Ward said. “We all come together and help each other out but we’re just out there competing.”
Lattimore has missed an extensive period of time during his career at OSU with lingering injury issues. Most recently, a hamstring injury kept him sidelined for the last five games of 2015. Lattimore claimed he was playing with pain during the games he appeared in.
“I was actually playing hurt last year, but I didn’t let that get in the way,” he said. “It really didn’t bother me.”
Lattimore was also quick to note he does not focus on separating himself from the players behind him vying for playing time. Instead, he works on doing his job to the best of his abilities.
“What do I focus on? Guarding the receiver.” he said. “Being a smart player on the field as well. This is really my first year.”
Ward contributed to 175 special teams plays last season for OSU and is touted as one of the fastest members of the team. After he clocked in at 21.8 mph during the Fiesta Bowl last year on kick coverage, the hype behind his speed seems to be warranted.
Coombs said he feels there is more to Ward as a player than just his immense speed.
“Denzel is sneaky strong,” Coombs said.
Even though the cornerbacks coach likes the strength of Ward, Coombs said his greatest asset will be speed and reacting to the ball.
“He gets ahead of guys on go routes and goes and becomes a receiver, which I think is important,” Coombs said. “He’s really fast and that’s a good thing to have out there at our spot.”
To add to the competition for the second cornerback spot, Coombs also mentioned the name of Damon Arnette. The redshirt freshman did not play last year, but is expected to make contributions using a physical style in pass coverage.
Ward said he knows with so many players fighting for spots, the competition will be tight. Still, he is confident in the ability of the guys around him.
“I feel we all have the ability to play cornerback,” Ward said. “We can all get on the field and make plays.”