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Football: Young, talented cornerbacks need to prove themselves before earning playing time

OSU cornerback coach Kerry Coombs and then-freshman cornerback Denzel Ward (12) celebrate after a tackle by Ward during a game against Rutgers on Oct. 24 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. Credit: Lantern file photo

Recruit rankings mean everything when college football teams are looking for fresh talent, but they mean little when it comes time to suit up and get to work. For the young secondary coming in to fill the shoes of outgoing talents for Ohio State, the journey has just begun.

Co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano met with the media for the first time this season, and had high praise for both freshman cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Jeffrey Okudah. Although he liked what he saw out of the new faces in the secondary, he said there’s a certain adjustment that takes time.

“Well there’s two things I think,” Schiano said. “The volume of football, as far as it’s much different than high school. All the details that go into playing. It’s not, you know, go cover him. And then, the other thing is the speed of the game and the tempo of the game and the speed of the players you’re trying to defend. But I can tell you that it’s real early, but those are some special guys.”

Okudah was clocked running at 23.2 miles per hour at one point during winter workouts, as evident by his name and speed being flashed across the giant screen in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center indoor practice field. He, along with Wade and sophomore transfer Kendall Sheffield all have a chance at contributing significant playing time in 2017.

Schiano stressed on multiple occasions that it’s still far too early to tell who will be playing where, and how often.

“I think it’s too early to judge,” he said. “I’m very impressed with them, as I said. Very athletic guys. Let’s let them play, and let’s see how it goes. Without a doubt, your initial impression is, really talented guys.”

OSU coach Urban Meyer, who first met with the media on Tuesday, said he sees lots of promise in his young players at all positions. However, replacing talents like those of the three departing defensive backs is going to be a monumental challenge.

Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker broke out as two of the best players at their respective positions in all of college football last season, and Gareon Conley had a productive career while donning the scarlet and gray.

Both Schiano and Meyer said a rotation with a blend of returning players and new players will be key to success in the pass defense.

“I think the way we play defense, we’d like to do that,” Meyer said. “We have (redshirt sophomore) Damon Arnette, and (junior) Denzel Ward are the only guys who have ever played for us right now. You’ve got (sophomore) Rodjay Burns. We moved (redshirt freshman) Wayne Davis to safety. You’ve got these four corners that just stepped out there today that looked pretty good. We’d like to play three or four — we’d like to play more than three or four. We learned a lesson. That was as good of production as we’ve had out of corners anywhere we’ve been. Obviously you’ve got great players, but what we ask those guys to do, it’s a track meet for four hours. If you can (get) a little rotation in there, it’s going to be much better.”

Both Arnette and Ward played in 13 games last season, but the former enjoyed a majority of the playing time. Although Arnette comes in as one of the most experienced corners, he struggled at times last season to stay with receivers and read routes correctly.

Schiano said he and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs will be looking closely at who can separate themselves from the pack, and who can earn a spot in the secondary rotation.

“Kerry was saying he likes all the depth at the position,” Schiano said. “But, again, the cream’s gotta rise to the top because we have one guy who really played meaningful reps at the corner position.”

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