What was the biggest talking point of the spring from Ohio State football? That's easy: the move to more press coverage in the secondary. Not only have fans longed for it for a decade or more, it's one the players all seemed to agree is to their liking.
"Yes. Yes. I like that a lot," senior cornerback Doran Grant said after the spring game, the excitement clear in his voice.
Junior Armani Reeves chimed in, too.
"You see it every Sunday -- All you see is Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson sitting there pressed up doing their thing, and that's what you dream of is just pressing up and being like, 'You're not catching the ball.' If you have that mentality every play, great things are gonna happen," Reeves said.
Kerry Coombs, who is entering his third season as a cornerbacks coach, said such a move is not as easily done as said though. And teams who want to press must commit to it rather than dabble, as the Buckeyes have done in the recent past.
"It takes practice to play that way, and football is made up of a myriad of different schemes," Coombs said. "There's lots of different things, and it's not like you can just say, 'Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go play.' It's the scheme. It's how everything fits together. I'm not blaming anybody, but that was not what we were doing. We did it at times. It wasn't our base concept. It was an adjustment. Now, it is our base alignment and we will adjust off of that. So, in order to do that, you've got to do it. Every single snap of spring football we have lined up in press coverage, and that's the way we're going to learn it.
Multiple factors likely led to the move, not the least of which was the struggle of the defense last season. There is also the matter of highly recruited prospects Gareon Conley and Eli Apple being more ready to play physically after redshirting last season. They join veterans Grant and Reeves while true freshman Damon Webb figures to jump into the mix when he gets here this summer as well.
"I think Gareon is a long, athletic, explosive player," Coombs said. "I think that his physical strength kept him off the field last year as much as anything. He got here in June and it's a lot to learn for a brand-new kid. He's playing every day, he's getting a ton of reps and he's handling that very well. He's an intelligent football player. He can run really well. Because of his arm length, he's a prototypical press corner. We're excited to seem him practice, and I think he'll play a lot of ball this year."
Head coach Urban Meyer said early in spring Apple had a health issue that is being better dealt with than it had been previously, and Coombs said to bank on the Buckeyes playing more than just two cornerbacks regularly this fall.
"We want you to know that - we're going to play more than two," Coombs said. "Gareon is right in the mix. Eli Apple has had a very good spring. He's over some health issues that had gone undetected and so I'm really excited about that and I'm eager."
Reeves, who figures to battle Conley and Apple for a starting role opposite Grant this fall and played the role of No. 1 nickel back in the spring, feels the new approach will benefit him as well.
"I'm bigger than a lot of the guys so I can use my hands and my body more," Reeves said. "A lot of guys there have good feet and are faster so they can really bump and grind and just run with them down the field, so its' really play with your strengths, and that's what makes it fun."
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