Ohio State Buckeyes: cam burrows

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

Was the spring injury a setback for Vonn Bell?

[+] EnlargeVonn Bell
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMIVonn Bell, who is a likely starter in the Ohio State secondary in 2014, missed spring practice with a knee injury.
Bell finally had the big stage and an opportunity that was even bigger to show why he was such a coveted recruit. The Ohio State safety certainly made the most of it with an eye-popping, one-handed interception in the Discover Orange Bowl that only raised the expectations moving into his sophomore season.

There was another chance to impress waiting for him in spring practice, with a new coach in the secondary ready to watch him and a fresh, aggressive scheme that seems perfectly suited to capitalize on his athleticism. But this time the result wasn't the same, as a fluke injury on the opening day of workouts ended his camp shortly after it started.

Bell is expected to be a full participant in the offseason program after undergoing minor knee surgery, but there's no question he would have benefited from the live reps he missed during March and April. After spending so much of his first year of the program in a reserve role, Bell would have had no shortage of snaps to work on his technique, absorb the system and make sure that co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash headed into the summer as sold on Bell's ability as the rest of the staff was during a heated recruiting battle for his services.

Ash, of course, has seen the film from the Orange Bowl and is obviously aware of the physical tools Bell can bring to the lineup alongside Tyvis Powell in the reworked secondary. And while Ash didn't express any concerns about the absence during practice, with fellow rising sophomore Cam Burrows helping fill the void during spring, it seems safe to assume that everybody would have benefited from having Bell healthy during the spring and pointing toward the fall.

"From a physical standpoint, yeah, it’s too bad that he’s not out there," Ash said. "But does it hurt us? No, it’s next man in. Cam Burrows has stepped in, taking advantage of the opportunity, and done a great job. Vonn will be healthy soon and we’re going to have a great competition for those safety positions.

"Would Vonn benefit from the opportunities? Absolutely. Is he going to hurt himself because of it? Not necessarily."

Either way, the Buckeyes now will have to wait until August to see Bell's capability.


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always trying to find new ways to motivate his players.

Last spring, he had a banner put up in the Ohio State field house reading “The Chase …” in reference to the Buckeyes’ championship pursuits. Meyer said he thought about changing the display for the 2014 offseason. In the end, though, he stuck with the same one.

“We didn’t accomplish it,” Meyer told ESPN.com. “We chased it but didn’t catch it. So the chase is still on.”

Ohio State, of course, nearly made it to its desired finish line. After going 12-0 for the second straight season under Meyer, the Buckeyes just needed to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game to clinch a date with Florida State for the BCS national title. Instead, they fell 34-24 to the Spartans and closed the year on a two-game losing streak with a 40-35 setback against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer says Ohio State is still trying to finish "The Chase."
So the chase continues, albeit with a much different-looking team in the 2014 starting gate. Gone is four-fifths of the offensive line that formed the backbone of the Big Ten’s top-scoring offense the past two seasons. Also gone are reigning Big Ten running back of the year Carlos Hyde and top receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, as well as the two biggest stars on defense -- linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby -- who opted to enter the NFL draft.

Experience is lacking in many key areas, but Meyer is ready to let some talented youngsters loose, including true freshmen. In retrospect, he wishes he had done so last year, when defensive end Joey Bosa and receiver Dontre Wilson were the only first-year players to make a big impact until safety Vonn Bell started in the Orange Bowl.

“We redshirted too many last year, and that was our fault,” he said. “There was a misunderstanding, and we just didn’t do a good job, especially on defense. When they show up on campus, we need to get them ready to play.”

This spring, early enrollees Raekwon McMillan (linebacker), Curtis Samuel (tailback) and Johnnie Dixon (receiver) were all heavily involved and have secured roles in the fall. Redshirt freshman are also at or near the top of the depth chart at strongside linebacker (Darron Lee and Chris Worley) and cornerback (Gareon Conley and Eli Apple), while true sophomores like safety Cam Burrows and tailback Ezekiel Elliott could force their way into the starting lineup.

“When you talk about inexperience, that’s a good thing right now,” said Chris Ash, who was hired from Arkansas as co-defensive coordinator to help fix Ohio State’s pass defense. “There aren’t a lot of habits that we have to change to fit what we’re trying to do. We don’t have older guys that are comfortable with where they’re at in their careers.”

An already young offense became even greener this spring because of injuries to three senior leaders: tight end Jeff Heuerman, receiver Evan Spencer and quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will no doubt look a lot different when Miller returns from shoulder surgery. During the 15 spring practices, the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year often stood behind the offense and wore a camera on his head so coaches could go over what he was seeing on the field.

“We're exhausting every avenue and even inventing different avenues to make sure he's engaged and getting mental reps,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “We're doing the best we can with a bad situation. He has embraced it and is working his tail off, making sure he’s getting the most out of it.”

Herman says the Buckeyes should be more explosive on the perimeter this season, with guys like Wilson, Dixon, junior college transfer Corey Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas and freshman Jalin Marshall at receiver and a stable of athletic tailbacks. The safeties are longer and quicker than they have been in the past, and the defensive line -- which could be one of the nation’s best -- will have four starters who all used to be defensive ends.

The objective is clear: more speed. To that end, Meyer has hammered a new mantra in the players' heads: “4 to 6, A to B.” That means play hard for four to six seconds and get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. It's hard to interview an Ohio State player these days without hearing the phrase.

“That’s all he’s been preaching this spring.” defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. “He said he’s not really worried about technique and all that stuff. It’s just about playing hard, because if you play hard, effort makes up for mistakes.”

Washington said the defense was greatly simplified this spring, with only about four or five different calls to learn. Aggressiveness trumped scheme.

“The culture of Ohio State is to go hard, not trick you,” Meyer said. “I just felt like there was too much stuff last year, instead of just going hard.”

By moving faster and playing harder, the Buckeyes hope to overcome their youth and track down what they've been hunting. They have been tantalizingly close.

“We’re still on a chase,” Washington said. “We’ve just got to finish it.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Spring weather has just now finally arrived for Ohio State, but its camp is already about to come to a close. Ahead of Saturday's exhibition game to wrap up the 15 workouts spread through March and April, the final look at things to watch will breakd own some intriguing matchups now that the official rosters have been unveiled.

[+] EnlargeDarryl Baldwin
AP Photo/David DurochikWith a tough matchup in Ohio State's spring game, Darryl Baldwin could prove he can lockdown the starting RT job.
Scarlet QB Cardale Jones vs. Gray secondary

  • The redshirt sophomore has strengthened his case to fill the backup role at quarterback behind Braxton Miller with strong practice performances throughout camp, but he's shown some signs of nerves at times during scrimmages and could benefit from a productive outing in a live setting in front of a big crowd. Urban Meyer typically focuses his attention and play-calling on the passing attack during spring games, and with the Gray having what appears to be the full starting secondary with Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows at safety and Doran Grant, Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley at cornerback, Jones will be tested.
Gray LB Raekwon McMillan vs. Scarlet RB Ezekiel Elliott

  • The hype is only building for the touted early enrollee on defense, and McMillan might be the most closely watched player in the Horseshoe as he's thrown into a lineup that includes two projected starters next to him at the outside linebacker spots. The true freshman has impressed the coaching staff during the 14 workouts so far, looking the part physically and embracing the culture Meyer is working so hard to reestablish. Even if finishing camp with some solid work against Ohio State's front-runner at tailback and three first-team offensive linemen doesn't help McMillan reel in senior Curtis Grant on the depth chart, it could still bode well for his chances to help provide depth in the fall -- and start building even more buzz for next season.
Scarlet RT Darryl Baldwin vs. Gray DE Noah Spence

  • Tougher spring game assignments than what Baldwin will face on Saturday are hard to come by, and really, the redshirt senior isn't likely to take on many pass rushers better than Spence when the real season arrives. So if Baldwin can hold his own against one of the fastest, most tenacious players off the edge in the Big Ten this weekend, that would go a long way toward solidifying a starting job and easing some of the uncertainty still swirling around an offensive line that must replace four starters. The Scarlet line as a whole caught a bit of a break with the first-team defensive line being split up, but Spence still has Adolphus Washington alongside him and ready to wreak the kind of havoc that stole the show in last year's edition of the spring showcase.


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer hired Chris Ash away from Arkansas primarily to fix Ohio State's problems in its pass defense.

What Ash found is that the biggest area of need might have been from the shoulder pads up rather than any scheme or philosophy.

"You talk about Ohio State and the history, and there have been some really good defenses and some really good defensive backs," the Buckeyes' first-year co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach told ESPN.com. "You knew what you were going to get when you lined up against Ohio State -- you were going to get hit in the mouth.

[+] EnlargeChris Ash
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsChris Ash says instilling a new attitude in the secondary is as important as any scheme he is bringing to Ohio State.
"From my observations, some of that confidence and swagger has been lost in the last couple of years. And that mental psyche is probably as big as anything for us to regain."

It's understandable why the secondary might have felt shell-shocked by the way last season ended. The last three games of the season saw Ohio State surrender 451 passing yards to Michigan in a one-point win, allow Michigan State's Connor Cook to register his first career 300-yard passing day in a Big Ten championship game loss and serve up five passing touchdowns to Clemson in the Orange Bowl defeat. That led to withering criticism from fans and media about the pass defense.

"It’s been everywhere about how bad our back end was," senior cornerback Doran Grant said.

Ash said he hasn't looked much at the past and doesn't really care about it. But he does want the defensive backfield to play with an attitude and confidence, a task that's not made easier by the loss of three starters from last season.

One way Ash has tried to instill those traits is by showing his players clips from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks' secondary. Seattle's hard-hitting, long cornerbacks and safeties set a tone for its entire defense.

"We made lot of cutups of them and said, 'Guys, this is how the best in the business play the game of football,’'' Ash said. "Are we going to be that? No, but we can be in our own way, and this is the way we need to play."

Ash wants his players showing energy and excitement on the field. So whenever a defensive back gives a great effort or celebrate a big play in practice this spring, you'll hear Ohio State coaches say, "Locker it." That's jargon for saving the video clip, which Ash will later show to his players in meetings.

Ohio State needed more change than just the mental side of the game, of course. Ash will help give the Buckeyes a more consistent and aggressive approach in its pass coverage, utilizing the Cover 4, or quarters, scheme. That will also feature some man-to-man, press coverage at times. It's kind of a combination of what Ash ran at Wisconsin, mixed in with some principals that Michigan State has had so much success with.

"We're taking the same approach that we take to stopping the run and putting it in the back end," Meyer said. "The feeling around here was as long as we stop the run and give up some passing yards, that’s OK. That’s not the case anymore. There are too many good throwing teams out there."

Grant is by far the most experienced player in the secondary and looks to take over the role of No. 1 cornerback after Bradley Roby's departure to the NFL. Working opposite him are junior Armani Reeves and redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple. The latter two were both big-time recruits, and Ash said Apple is probably the defense's most improved player over the latter half of spring ball.

Sophomore Vonn Bell, who made his first career start at safety in the Orange Bowl, tore his MCL early in spring practice. In his absence, the 6-foot-3 Tyvis Powell and the 6-foot Cam Burrows are taking first-team reps at safety. Both are former cornerbacks and are what Ash calls "the model of what we want to recruit here" at safety because of their speed and size.

They've got a long way to go to match the Seahawks, but the Buckeyes have very promising, if somewhat raw, athletes to work with. They hope that leads to a much better and more confident secondary this season.

"It’s not about the size or anything like that," Grant said. "It’s about going hard and being coachable. [The Seahawks are] a high standard, but Ohio State, we’re also a high standard."

Early OSU observations: No. 4

March, 11, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State’s two practices to open camp before taking the week off for spring break gives one a peek at some new faces and a couple changes. While the Buckeyes are gearing up for the sprint to the finish of spring workouts, we’re looking at the early developments and what they mean moving forward for Urban Meyer’s team.

No. 4: Safeties getting squeezed

[+] EnlargeVonn Bell
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMISafety Vonn Bell's knee surgery knocks him out for the spring.
The process was never expected to go smoothly or easily, but Ohio State surely could have done without a setback popping up on the first day of camp as it set out to repair its damaged pass defense.

Urban Meyer made clear that a few coverage breakdowns were to be expected as the Buckeyes installed a more aggressive scheme in the secondary, and so he wasn’t troubled by the big plays that were given up as practice opened with the offense clearly getting the better of the defense. He also recognized that there wasn’t enough depth at safety for his liking, but losing projected starter Vonn Bell to knee surgery for the rest of spring after that first workout might have been more difficult for Meyer to stomach than a few deep balls completed to wide-open receivers.

Bell is expected to be back to full speed by May after the minor procedure for a tear in his medial collateral ligament, more than enough time to allow him to take advantage of the offseason program and get physically ready for his critical role on the back line. But with new co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Ash installing his new system, reps in March and April would have been invaluable for Bell, particularly because Meyer expressed confidence only in him, Cam Burrows and returning starter Tyvis Powell as options at safety.

The Buckeyes have two newcomers on the way in the fall, but the lack of depth at the position during the spring might be unsettling for a team that was devastated by just one key injury during the season, as everything fell apart after losing Christian Bryant in late September. Bell’s injury isn’t nearly as serious, but it offered a quick reminder that the secondary is going to hit some potholes on the road to rebuilding.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
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Ohio State Buckeyes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana Hoosiers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins, Big Ten Conference, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, cam burrows, Armani Reeves, Blake Countess, Doran Grant, Jarrod Wilson, Darian Hicks, Gareon Conley, sojourn shelton, Jabrill Peppers, Nick VanHoose, Rashard Fant, Godwin Igwebuike, Tyvis Powell, Darius Hillary, Mark Murphy, Michael Caputo, Peniel Jean, Dymonte thomas, Ron Tanner, Landon Feichter, Dezmen Southward, Adrian Amos, Daniel Jones, Ibraheim Campbell, Kurtis Drummond, V'Angelo Bentley, Dwight White, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Tim Bennett, Matt Harris, Taylor Richards, Antonio Allen, B.J. Lowery, Ryan Keiser, Derrick Wells, Nate Hammon, Austin Hudson, Jesse Della Valle, Michael Hunter, Trae Waynes, Eaton Spence, Jaylen Dunlap, Raymon Taylor, Zane Petty, Cedric Thompson, John Lowdermilk, Josh Mitchell, Charlton Warren, B1G spring positions 14, A.J. Hendy, Alvin Hill, Andrew Green, Anthony Cioffi, Anthony Gair, Anthony Nixon, Antoine Lewis, Antonio Johnson, Arjen Colquhoun, Charles Jackson, Corey Cooper, Daniel Davie, Darius Mosely, Delon Stephenson, Demetrious Cox, Dexter McDougle, Eric Murray, Ezra Robinson, Frankie Williams, Gareef Glashen, Grayson Levine, Harvey Jackson, Ian Thomas, Jeremiah Johnson, Jermaine Edmonson, Jevaris Little, Johnathan Aiken, Jonathan Rose, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Leroy Clark, Lorenzo Waters, Malik Golden, Nadir Barnwell, RJ Williamson, Sean Davis, Sean Draper, Serge Trezy, Tanner Miller, Taylor Barton, Tejay Johnson, Traveon Henry, Trevor Williams, Will Likely, Zach Dancel

Position preview: Defensive backs

August, 26, 2013
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster with training camp over and the program turning its attention to the opener on Saturday against Buffalo.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Top of the depth chart: Bradley Roby and Doran Grant at cornerback and Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett at safety, with Tyvis Powell at the star position in nickel situations. (Note: Roby will miss the opener because of suspension.)

Tyvis Powell
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteRedshirt freshman Tyvis Powell has earned a spot as the nickel cornerback.
Next in line: Armani Reeves won a heated competition against the next wave of Ohio State cornerbacks during training camp, and he’ll replace Roby in the starting lineup for the opener. Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown will add to the rotation at safety and should see plenty of action in the dime package.

New faces: Arguably the deepest, most talented class of defensive backs in the country signed in February with the Buckeyes, and they could make a mark as early as this fall, given the combination of athleticism and the likelihood coordinator Luke Fickell will be leaning heavily on his nickel and dime personnel. That should open up more potential playing time for cover guys like Gareon Conley, Eli Apple and Cam Burrows, and safety Vonn Bell could emerge quickly as an option at the star spot.

Recruiting trail: The Buckeyes are right back at it again, having already secured a commitment from ESPN 300 cornerback Damon Webb to add to the depth in the secondary. They aren’t done yet, either, but Webb (Detroit/Cass Technical) currently rates as the crown jewel of the class with a ranking of 84 from the RecruitingNation experts.

Flexibility: Roby is locked in at the premier spot at cornerback, and he’s not going anywhere once he returns from suspension if he stays healthy. Grant had a productive spring and has earned his starting spot, but he’ll face challenges from Reeves and the freshmen to stay there. That’s one spot in the secondary that bears monitoring and could potentially see a change, as there certainly shouldn't be any openings at safety as productive, veteran seniors man both spots.

Notable numbers:

  • A season after leading the nation in passes defended and tying the school record for pass breakups with 17, Roby doesn’t have all that much to prove in what seems likely to be his last season with the Buckeyes before declaring early for the NFL draft. But he did only manage a pair of interceptions a year ago, both coming in the easy victory over Nebraska, and that’s one area of his game where there’s still plenty of room to grow.
  • Perhaps overshadowed by Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier statistically, Bryant has somewhat quietly put together an impressive all-around resume that shows how valuable he has been to the defense as a whole. Heading into his senior campaign, Bryant ranks second among active Buckeyes in tackles, passes broken up and forced fumbles while bringing a consistent, physical presence to the lineup in 22 starts.
Big question: Is there such a thing as too much reliance on defensive backs?

Since spring, the answer has pretty clearly been a resounding “no” for the Buckeyes. Part of the reason for the heavy workload of the nickel and dime personnel is certainly the lack of depth at linebacker, but the amount of experienced talent returning in the secondary and the expanding influence of spread offenses have combined to make for an easy decision for Ohio State to roll out five or six defensive backs at a time. As long as players such as Powell, Brown or Bell are able to do work against the run and provide the kind of sure-handed tackling normally required of a linebacker, the Buckeyes will keep sending out defensive backs in waves, leaning on the strength of that unit to lead from the back in the push for a national title.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The arrangement is temporary in the starting lineup, and there’s not much guaranteed even after the first snap.

Armani Reeves will take what he can get and make the most of it, though, even if the circumstances that will lead to the sophomore’s first start when the season opens next week aren’t exactly ideal.

Reeves is certainly aware of how short his stay with the first unit in place of Ohio State’s star junior Bradley Roby might be following the announcement of a one-game suspension tied to Roby's arrest for an incident at a bar last month. But the Buckeyes didn’t waste much time elevating Reeves on the depth chart, either, at least offering a suggestion that he might be leading a talented pack of defensive backs pushing the established starters for playing time.

[+] EnlargeArmani Reeves
AP Photo/Al BehrmanSophomore Armani Reeves intends to make the most of his chance to start while Bradley Roby is suspended.
“Obviously, [Roby] is one of the best in the country, if not the best,” Reeves said after practice Monday. “When he comes back, I’m still going to do the same thing I’ve been doing the whole time, and that’s just working hard. If I’m on the field at corner, I’m going to go hard. And if I’m not, I’m going to go hard on special teams.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s on the field or not, I’m just going to do my job and help this team any way I can.”

Roby officially won’t be out there for the opener against Buffalo despite the possibility that a charge which has already been reduced from battery to disorderly conduct could be dismissed entirely. And after the Buckeyes settled on that punishment on Saturday, it only took two days before cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs announced a replacement for him, tabbing Reeves for the honor instead of continuing to let a heated battle for practice reps continue.

Reeves might have inherited a spot in the starting group due to something well out of his control, but he certainly hasn’t been just handed playing time thanks to the deep, talented pool of options Ohio State has on hand in the secondary.

Arguably the most skilled signing class of cornerbacks in the country is on campus with Gareon Conley, Eli Apple and Cam Burrows, and all of them have made an impression with their athleticism and vied for action right away.

Doran Grant has done enough to hang on to the starting job he claimed coming out of spring practice, and he’ll likely be handling Roby’s normal responsibilities at the boundary cornerback spot while he’s gone. But Reeves has had to earn the opportunity he’s going to get against Buffalo, both by breathing down the neck of Grant at times and in separating himself from the highly touted freshmen.

“Incredible offseason, great spring, worked really hard, understands the game, very committed, very focused -- but still has to play,” Coombs said. “Still has to play, so we’ll find out on the 31st, but he’s going to line up and he’s going to play.

“I’m excited to see him play, to be honest with you.”

That audition could be particularly valuable down the road, as Grant might attest after shining in place of Roby when given the chance a year ago when a shoulder injury forced Ohio State’s shutdown defender to miss a game.

Roby came right back to reclaim his spot last season, and he surely will again when his suspension ends. But however briefly a starting role might belong to Reeves, that doesn’t diminish the importance of a chance to showcase his ability.

“This is my first game start, and who wouldn’t be nervous, really?” Reeves said. “But first play, first hit, I’ll be cool. Just have to go play, it’s a great experience and I can’t wait for it.

“I prepared the whole offseason for this -- spring ball, summer workouts -- all for this moment. I just have to take the opportunity and just go with it.”

When it’s over, Reeves just might have to go back to the second unit. But the next wave of cornerbacks appears to be coming, and he can send the warning signal.

Ohio State grabs commitment No. 16 

July, 29, 2013
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Ohio State certainly is doing its part to shore up positions of need in the 2014 recruiting class.

After landing ESPN 300 offensive guard Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal) on Sunday, the Buckeyes hauled in four-star athlete Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle) on Monday. He is their 16th pledge in 2014 and picked Ohio State over Pittsburgh and Penn State.

Trades aren't happening in college football any time soon. Even if they were legalized, the thought of two hated rivals doing anything to potentially help each other out would make Woody and Bo start spinning in their graves.

But pretend for a second those laws were relaxed and the Buckeyes and Wolverines each had a need so pressing that the programs at least kicked around some ideas. As part of our ongoing look this week at "The Game," a couple ESPN.com beat writers took a shot to see just what they could get from each other that might spur on a championship run for the current roster. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, here's a look at how a (fictional) deal might have gone down.

From: OSU_GM

To: UM_PersonnelDept

Subject: Don’t tell anybody

Mr. Rothstein:

We probably shouldn’t even be talking, and if word gets out that we even considered making a deal, we might need to consider looking for new jobs. But since the rules against trades in college football magically vanished and we were hired for some reason to become general managers for Ohio State and Michigan, respectively, I think we at least owe it to ourselves to pursue all options. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Buckeyes were hit pretty hard by graduation in the front seven after knocking off the Wolverines to cap a perfect season last fall (in case you forgot about the celebration in the ‘Shoe). And recently the program has seen a group of linebackers that was already thin lose a couple more bodies that could have offered some help off the bench this fall. Additionally, while the future looks pretty bright at tackle for Taylor Decker or Chase Farris, right now there is one spot without much experience that tends to stand out when there are four seniors starting elsewhere on the line. So, I don’t know what position is troubling you most as training camp sneaks up on college football, but if there’s a potential swap or two that might help us both out, I am all ears. But you didn’t hear that from me.

Sincerely,

Austin Ward

Interim Ohio State personnel director

---

[+] EnlargeMichael Schofield
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Buckeyes wanted Michael Schofield for experience at tackle, but Michigan's demands in return were too rich for OSU's blood.
From: UM_PersonnelDept

To: OSU_GM

Subject: Too late

Mr. Ward:

Unfortunately for you, I'm mouthy. And I've already started rumors you are trying to trade Braxton Miller for the remnants of Rich Rodriguez's offense. Apologies in advance. Not going to lie, looking over my roster I have concerns at wide receiver, running back and I could use some experience on the interior of the offensive line. Also, while there's some depth at cornerback, wouldn't mind grabbing one or two from you. Oh, and since you're interested in giving up Miller, that would solidify some of the depth issues there. I see you're fishing for a tackle. Sorry, Taylor Lewan is not available. While I like Michael Schofield a lot, he is more available at the right price. So too are some of the linebackers. What interests you on the Michigan squad? I'm willing to listen for anyone except for Lewan and quarterback Devin Gardner.

Sincerely,

Michael Rothstein

Fake Michigan personnel director

---

From: OSU_GM

To: UM_PersonnelDept

Subject: Re: BRAXTON

Hey bud, these talks just about ended instantly with any mention of the franchise quarterback being available. Newsflash -- Miller won’t be on the market heading into his senior season either, so get used to trying to defend him. At any rate, Schofield would be an intriguing option for the Buckeyes because he could provide another veteran presence with ample experience in the Big Ten, potentially giving Decker or Farris another year to develop physically before moving into the starting lineup in 2014. After getting a glimpse at what Desmond Morgan could do last fall when he made 11 tackles (in a losing effort) against Ohio State, he might look good in Scarlet and Gray, especially if the spring gave him flexibility to play in the middle. I probably don’t need to mention that Bradley Roby is untouchable in the secondary, but there is no shortage of talent alongside him in the backend. Might want to take a look at the stable of running backs the Buckeyes have in the fold as well -- but feel free to skip over Carlos Hyde.

AW

---

From: UM_PersonnelDept

To: OSU_GM

Subject: No subject

(Read full post)

This month is very important for Ohio State, as the staff is set to host its senior advanced camp on Sunday. Hundreds of prospects will be in attendance, including several top targets. Here are five storylines to watch this week:


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It’s a job interview, but for whom?

While official visits are important in landing pledges, summer camps on university campuses are almost as vital in the recruiting scene.

The summer months are a quiet period for coaches, and that means face-to-face contact can only be made on a campus.

Ohio State will have a number of camps, but the big ones on June 9, June 21 and July 26 will likely produce commitments. That is if those three dates pan out like in years past.


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Rising stock: Doran Grant

May, 1, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice in the books and Ohio State heading into its offseason conditioning program, BuckeyeNation is looking at the players who boosted their stock with the program the most during those 15 workouts. The offense went first last week, and it's now followed up by a handful of defenders who will be in line for heavy workloads this fall.

[+] EnlargeDoran Grant
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesDoran Grant celebrates after his interception sealed the Buckeyes' win over UAB last season.
No. 3: Doran Grant

  • Who: The flashes of ability off the bench last season made it clear that Grant, a junior, would at a minimum be sliding into a starting position when spring practice opened. But Ohio State still needed to see something more from Grant to feel truly comfortable with him on the field consistently opposite Bradley Roby at the other cornerback. Truthfully, what the coaching staff really wanted to find out was if Grant was capable of being the top cornerback on the field if, for some reason, Roby wasn't available. And while Roby's nagging shoulder injury was a factor in a lighter workload during camp, the Buckeyes also pulled him out of some situations even when he could compete, just to see how Grant would respond to the pressure of playing at the boundary position in the secondary. After passing the test out there, Grant was able to tighten his grip at the field spot heading into the summer.
  • Spring progress: Few players on the Ohio State roster can stop a watch quicker in the 40-yard dash than Grant, and with comparable size to Roby, there aren't many physical concerns about his ability to match up in coverage, either. But extensive study of practice and game tapes by cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs suggested the issue holding Grant back from becoming a regular in the rotation last season was his slow read-and-react times in coverage. The Buckeyes have designed a number of drills that all their defensive backs can do to improve that, but nobody has taken to them quite like Grant -- and the results are showing up on the field.
  • Jockeying for position: There will be no shortage of challengers for Grant's spot when the Buckeyes report back to practice in August as one of the most talented signing classes of defensive backs in the country arrives. But the competition was already pretty intense for the Buckeyes in the spring, with Armani Reeves, Tyvis Powell and early enrollees Eli Apple and Cam Burrows all in a group pushing for a role in a deep secondary. Grant has a head start thanks to his game experience and some previous success in limited chances, but maintaining that edge will require more than just showing up.
  • He said it: "Our ideal situation is all of those guys play, all of them contribute. I think that’s healthy, and that way if a guy gets dinged or a guy gets tired, you don’t feel like you can’t do this, the sky is falling. My expectation is that there’s good, healthy competition among all of those guys and those young guys coming in are going to push them for playing time." -- Coombs, on adding more depth at cornerback
  • Closing number: Grant wasn't able to get his hands on the football as spring practice wrapped up with an exhibition in Cincinnati, but he did chip in four tackles while continuing to handle Roby's role. Roby was held out to rest an injured shoulder.
Throughout the next few months, BuckeyeNation will look deeper into those juniors offered by Ohio State. We’ll give as much detail as we can and go behind the scenes to see why these class of 2014 standouts are so attractive to the Buckeyes. Next on the list of cornerbacks is Jabrill Peppers, who took a recent swing through the Midwest and saw both Ohio State and Michigan.

Vitals: Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds.


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Week in review: Movement everywhere 

April, 8, 2013
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Raekwon McMillanRadi Nabulsi/ESPN.comOhio State re-established its lead for ESPN Watch List linebacker Raekwon McMillan after McMillan spent three days in Columbus this past week.
It had all the makings of a huge week of recruiting for Ohio State with a slew of visitors spending part of their spring breaks in Columbus, Ohio. What followed was a commitment from outside linebacker Sam Hubbard and offers to some big names from around the country.

Here’s a look at a very busy week for the scarlet gray:


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