Former Ohio State cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore are headed to the NFL. That means the Buckeyes will have to find two new starters at the corner position for the 2017 season, right?
The team already has a starter in Denzel Ward, who will be a junior in the fall.
“You guys keep saying he 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,” said OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs of Ward on Thursday. “So I would prefer it if you guys refer to him as the third starter at corner because that’s what he was. We had a two-, three-man rotation. There was never a series where he didn’t go, and then somebody came out.”
Since the time Conley and Lattimore announced they were leaving the program early to pursue professional careers, much talk has circulated that the Buckeyes will have to find two new starting cornerbacks. Coombs clarified that is simply not the case because Ward was just as effective as Conley and Lattimore.
“What I would tell you is that from a production standpoint, and you guys watched the games, the production was identical for those three kids,” Coombs said of the play of Conley, Lattimore and Ward in 2016. “To somehow say we were less when one went on the field would be an incredible injustice. Go back and check the numbers, what we did was we kept guys fresh.
“(Ward's) as good as the other two. I played three guys of equal talent and ability.”
These remarks caught reporters’ attention, possibly because Lattimore had 41 tackles (one being for a loss) and four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and Conley recorded 26 tackles (none for a loss) and four picks, none of which were returned for scores, last season.
Ward, meanwhile, registered 23 tackles (none for a loss) and no interceptions in 2016. He did, however, break up nine passes, which was just as many as Lattimore and one more than Conley.
“Listen to me, I don’t run out a guy who’s not as good as the other guys,” Coombs continued. “Who would do that? Have you met my boss (head coach Urban Meyer)? He would say, ‘Kerry, what are you doing!? What are you doing!?' Who does that? There was no drop off.”
Ward sees himself as a first-stringer as well.
“I definitely feel I’m a returning starter,” Ward (5-11, 191) said Thursday. “Gareon and Marshon would start the first series out, and then that next series, no matter what happened, I’m coming in next. And we just rotated throughout the whole season.”
Rather than get offended by all the talk regarding OSU not having any returning starters at the corner position for 2017, the Macedonia, Ohio, native uses that narrative as an incentive.
“It’s motivation,” Ward said. “It doesn’t really offend me, but it’s definitely motivation. I’ve just got to go out there and show that I can play and do what I can do to help this team.
“I’ve seen some of it, but I’ve just got to go out and do what I have to do. I’ve just got to go out and play like I’m the starting corner, the No. 1 corner here.”
As for who will man the starting job opposite Ward, there are a number of options.
“From a pecking-order standpoint, if we lined up today, I would expect that six of them would play or maybe seven during the course of a game,” Coombs said. “They’re that talented, and we keep fresh guys out there. We’re going to play.”
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