THE NEXT EARLY NFL DRAFTEE: Even though this will be his fourth year in the program at Ohio State, Gareon Conley is a junior from his eligibility standpoint. And he will be leaving for the NFL after the season. He took a huge leap last season and should be the leader of a very inexperienced defensive backfield. Conley is a great press-man corner, and his tackling has improved as he's gotten stronger. He will take the opponent's top receiver each week. There aren't a lot of starters that people can say they know what they have, but Gareon Conley is one.
NEED MORE DEPTH BY THE NUMBERS: They want four corners they can trust. There are a lot of candidates to provide depth, but only Conley is a given. Last season, both Conley and Eli Apple played over 1,000 plays apiece and they absolutely do not want that this year. But last year they felt they could not afford to sub for either guy in close games. This year, they want four corners that can play. Do they have those guys identified right now? Probably not.
WHO IS IN THE MIX AT CB? Two guys are sticking out right now, in Denzel Ward and Marshon Lattimore. Ward played a whopping 140 plays last season, while Lattimore played one half of one game basically. Are they talented? Yes. Can they play at a level set by Doran Grant and Eli Apple? We shall see. These two are the frontrunners at corner and nickel. Ward has great skill, and could be the next future star at Ohio State.
RIGHT BEHIND THE FIRST TWO CB'S: Damon Arnette is pushing Lattimore and Ward, and he is showing great cover skills on an island in practice. Rodjay Burns is an interesting guy, because he is picking things up quickly. Josh Norwood appears to be behind most everybody right now. How fast will it take these guys to play at Ohio State's standards? Does it cost you games while they're learning? Last year, Ohio State had four DB's they could trust. This year, they need six. Can that math work out with losing Apple, Powell and Bell? It better work out.
THE STARS AT SAFETY SO FAR: Malik Hooker has flat wowed people in practice. Will that translate to Oklahoma next month? He shined in last Saturday's scrimmage, as did former cornerback Damon Webb who's now starting at safety. These are your two starters today. Could that change by Bowling Green? Yes, it could. These two need to be good, because mistakes in the back end cost you touchdowns, which cost you games in the long run.
WHO IS FIGHTING FOR SAFETY PT? Erick Smith is still highly thought of, but he's trying to get back to full health and it's been a slow process to date. Cam Burrows is not just fighting for playing time this year, but fighting for his fifth year in the program next year. Eric Glover-Williams has been moved all over the place: safety, corner and nickel, and is looking for his place in this defense.
THE TOP FRESHMAN DB: It's clearly been Jordan Fuller, and he is going to see time and not redshirt. He is bouncing back and forth between corner, nickel and safety, but the staff feels he's a safety in the long run. Jahsen Wint can hit, and you might look for him on special teams, but he's not close to playing safety yet.
SUMMARY: I know Gareon Conley can play to Ohio State standards today. There's not one other DB I can say that about right now, and neither can the coaching staff. Can 5 or 6 of these hit it big? They'd better, or Ohio State might give up points in droves this season. If this group is bad-to-average this season, there's just no way Ohio State is a factor nationally. If they're good-to-great, it takes this defense up a lot. Which will it be?