Walking off the field at University of Phoenix Stadium after a 31-0 loss in the Fiesta Bowl, then-junior Damon Webb was the only member of the starting secondary who would play another game in an Ohio State uniform.
Less than two weeks later, cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore and safety Malik Hooker all declared pro and are projected first-round picks in the NFL draft at the end of April.
Webb, the only returning member of a menacing secondary, has undergone a change entering his fourth and final season in Columbus.
“I think that sometimes you have to be the man to be the man,” said Kerry Coombs, cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator. “And he is the man back there.”
Webb was overshadowed the entire 2016 season by soon-to-be NFL draft pick Hooker, who had seven interceptions and three defensive touchdowns playing alongside Webb at safety. In his first full season as a starter, Webb was named honorable mention All-Big Ten after posting 52 tackles (fourth-best on the team), three pass breakups and one interception he returned for a score.
He played in eight games his freshman season, but faced adversity during his sophomore campaign when he was suspended for nearly half the regular season for an undisclosed reason.
Originally recruited as a cornerback, Webb switched to safety in the spring before the 2016 season. Now, Webb is the only sure thing at safety.
“Right now, the guy who performed like a starter is Damon Webb,” OSU defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “He had his best stretch of football that I’ve ever seen in him, and I haven’t seen that much, but from what I’ve seen, it was his best stretch of football. He has a look about him, a focus that I think this is going to be a huge summer for him. He’s going to come back and have a great senior year.”
A refocused Webb might be the best thing that can happen to a defense whose only question marks are in the secondary. Junior Denzel Ward and redshirt sophomore Damon Arnette are two returning cornerbacks who will assume larger roles this fall with a room full of inexperienced players. Likewise, sophomore Jordan Fuller and freshman Isaiah Pryor are two young members of the safety unit who came to OSU with hype similar to Webb’s.
Coombs said Webb has lost weight, gained quickness and even called him “probably the smartest player” on defense.
In the offseason, Schiano said Webb was constantly in the film room, watching his mistakes and correcting them in spring practice. When Schiano met with Webb for his exit meeting following Saturday’s spring game, Schiano left with great confidence in the senior from Detroit who’s still trying to leave his mark on OSU football.
“This is it. He’s got that one year left before he’s done with his college career,” Schiano said. “You can see an increased urgency in everything he’s doing … I think he’s an incredibly focused guy right now.”