Sophomore cornerback Armani Reeves will have big shoes to fill for the Ohio State football team when it kicks off its season Aug. 31 versus Buffalo. With star cornerback Bradley Roby suspended for the season opener, Reeves will take Roby’s place in the starting lineup opposite junior Doran Grant, OSU cornerbacks coach KerryCoombs said Monday.
Reeves said Monday he is looking forward to the opportunity to be a starter, if only for one game.
“I can’t wait to have all my family and friends see me on the field,” Reeves said. “It’s going to be fun.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer announced Saturday that Roby, a redshirtjunior, would be suspended for at least the first game of the season for his involvement in an incident at a bar in Bloomington, Ind., on July 21. That announcement came one day after Roby’s charge was downgraded from misdemeanor battery to disorderly conduct.
Roby was one of the nation’s best cornerbacks last season as a redshirt sophomore. He had 19 pass defenses in 11 games for a nation-best rate of 1.73 pass defenses per game. He was named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and a second-team All-American.
Meyer has not ruled out the possibility of Roby being suspended for more than one game, but he is expected to return as the team’s No. 1 cornerback once he is off suspension.
Coombs said Reeves has earned the opportunity to start against Buffalo.
“(Reeves has had an) incredible offseason, great spring, worked really hard, understands the game, very committed, very focused,” Coombs said. “(He) 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, and I’m excited to see him play.”
Starting opposite Reeves will be Grant, who is taking Travis Howard’s place in the starting lineup at cornerback.
“I feel good. I feel ready to play. I’m ready for the season to get started,” Grant said.
Grant started one game last season versus UAB in place of Roby. He saw action in all 12 games, accumulated 19 tackles and had an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery during the season.
Going into this season as a starter, Grant said he has a fresh mindset and is going to play more aggressively.
“I prepared for it just like I did last season,” Grant said. “I just grew a little bit, little bit more confident and I’m ready for Aug. 31.”
Coombs said he’s confident in Grant’s ability.
“I think there’s a difference when you walk in and hope to get a job, and when you’ve earned a job,” Coombs said. “I think he feels very, very confident in his ability to do that job. I know that I do.”
With Roby’s ability to make plays on the ball and lock down opponents in coverage, opposing teams may be more prone to throw at Grant this season. Grant said he is looking forward to be tested by his opponents.
“To me, it’s just more opportunity in my eyes,” Grant said.
Coombs said Grant has been tested by all of the Buckeyes’ top wide receivers in fall camp, and that Grant has responded “incredibly well.”
“If you’re going to play this position at this level, you better hope to be tested, that’s why you want to be there,” Coombssaid. “You’re standing out there on the island all by yourself. It takes a man’s man to play corner in the Big Ten Conference and I would expect that he’s really excited about that.”
Redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Guiton said throwing against Grant in practice has been a challenge.
“He’s a guy that works hard and he’s always in there and I think he’s going to do real good,” Guiton said. “He’s there, he’s always there, you have to make a good pass to complete it on him.”
In football terminology, Roby plays boundary cornerback, which means he will play on the short side of the field and typically see more one-on-one matchups with the opposing team’s best receiver. Grant will play the field cornerback spot opposite Roby, but for the season opener, Coombs said both Grant and Reeves could see time as the boundary cornerback.
“For the first game, Doran (Grant) will play some boundary, Armani (Reeves) will play some boundary,” Coombs said. “The throw is shorter to the boundary so it’s an easier throw. Offenses put their best guy there a lot. So a shorter throw to a better receiver requires tighter coverage. The skill set in the boundary is a little different than the skill set to the field.”
Roby may be one of the nation’s best cornerbacks, but Coombs said the secondary will be fine without him in the lineup.
“I want to make sure I’m very, very clear: We’re going to be good regardless of who’s in there,” Coombs said.
Behind Roby, Grant and Reeves, the Buckeyes are relying on youth to step up quickly at cornerback.
Three true freshmen — Eli Apple, Cam Burrows and Gareon Conley — are currently battling for depth chart position at cornerback behind Reeves, Coombs said.
“They’re battling their butt(s) off,” Coombs said. “The guy who makes it through that the best is the guy that’s going to play the most, but I would expect all of them to play this year.”
As for Reeves, he said although he is excited to start, his preparation will not change if he returns to a backup role upon Roby’s return.
“Obviously he’s one of the best in the country, if not the best, so when he comes back I’m still going to do the same thing I’ve been doing all the time, and that’s working hard,” Reeves said of Roby. “And if I’m on the field at corner, I’m going to be going hard.”
Reeves said Roby has still been the same player in camp too, even though he will be forced to sit out the opening game.
“He’s been very supportive and working hard like always,” Reeves said. “Nothing’s really changed for him. Still a hard worker, film everyday, technique’s always on point.”
The Aug. 31 season opener versus Buffalo is scheduled for a noon kickoff at Ohio Stadium.