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Football: Kerry Coombs expects plenty of young players in the secondary rotation in 2017

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OSU cornerbacks and special teams coach Kerry Coombs talks to the media on March 30 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex. Credit: Nicholas McWilliams | Sports Editor

Spoiled with the likes of potential first-round picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley last season, Ohio State football is returning just senior safety Damon Webb to its secondary.

Although most writers and analysts deemed Lattimore and Conley the only two starters at cornerback, with redshirt sophomore Damon Arnette returning as the potential nickelback, cornerbacks and special teams coach Kerry Coombs feels one Buckeye keeps getting left out.

“You guys keep saying (Denzel Ward) wasn’t a starter last year, and I know he didn’t walk out onto the field for the first snap of the game, but he played the same number of snaps as Marshon and Gareon,” Coombs said on Thursday. “So I would prefer it if you guys would refer to him as the third starter at corner. Because that’s what he was. We had a true three-man rotation.”

Arnette was scrutinized for some mistakes early in the season, and eventually lost snaps to Ward. With both players entering their third year at OSU, it’s a race to see who will get the nod as a starter for the Scarlet and Gray next season.  

However, with a slew of young players arriving with their fair share of accolades and hype behind them, it might not be a clear-cut depth chart in the secondary, much like it was last season for OSU. Only this time, Coombs might be increasing the number of players who see snaps in the defensive backfield.

“I tell them all the time in the room, if we have four guys who can go out there and cover their man so that he doesn’t catch the ball, we’ll play four,” he said. “In addition to the nickel.”

Of the potential contributors, Coombs said any one of the incoming members of the 2017 recruiting class can make an impact.

“The new guys are really, really playing well, as is (sophomore) Rodjay Burns,” he said. “This group of kids, from a pecking order standpoint, if we lined up today, I would expect six of them to play, or maybe seven, during the course of a game. They’re that talented, and we’re keep fresh guys out there.”

Although Coombs isn’t giving anything away in terms of who he feels is the top cornerback, it would seem easy to infer Ward should be the frontrunner. After matching the number of snaps had by the two lead corners who will be playing soon in the NFL, his resume is impressive.

Plus, Coombs would have to answer to OSU coach Urban Meyer if he wasn’t putting the best players on the field.

“I don’t run out a guy who’s not as good as the other guys,” he said. “Who would do that? Have you met my boss? He would say, ‘Dammit, what are you doing?’”

Webb, who will be staying at his position from last season while coaches attempt to find a replacement for Malik Hooker, said he shares the sentiments of his coaches, and is excited by what might come this season.

“I see the younger players on the team coming along real well,” Webb said. “Incoming freshman, dudes that were on the team last year, I feel like they’re all stepping up and fighting. This is one of the best springs that I’ve had too.”

OSU will present its new-look secondary on April 15 during the annual spring game. While the starters for the game might not be the same as the regular season, the scrimmage will give a good look into who is pulling ahead.

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