With three down and seven to go, The Lantern continues its rundown of the top 10 most important Buckeyes as their 2014 kickoff is less than two months away.
No. 7: Doran Grant, senior cornerback
Looking back at the Ohio State football team’s 2013 campaign, it is easily apparent that the team’s achilles heel was located at the cornerback position. Even though he was supposed to be OSU’s shutdown corner last season, former Buckeye Bradley Roby had a number of slip-ups in covering the opposition. Journeymen receivers like California’s Chris Harper and Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis each had 100-plus yard games against Roby, who consistently gave up big plays throughout the season.
In the final game of the Buckeye’s season at the Discover Orange Bowl, then-junior Doran Grant took the reigns from Roby in becoming, the team’s No. 1 corner. Grant’s first assignment was a test that he was almost destined to fail –– covering Sammy Watkins, who was the best wideout in college football.
While few were expecting Grant to contain Watkins, the result was still disappointing as Watkins went on to have the game of his collegiate career in racking up 16 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. While Watkins is sure to be Grant’s greatest challenge for the near future, Grant’s performance in no way assured Buckeye fans that he was ready to become OSU’s top cover man.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Grant showed flashes of brilliance, muddled with inconsistency. In the 2013 season, Grant netted 58 total tackles, 10 pass break ups and three interceptions. He started off strong, having nine total tackles and four pass deflections in the Buckeye’s first two games against Buffalo and San Diego State. In the middle of the season, Grant had continued success against Northwestern, where he tallied nine tackles and an interception, and Purdue, where he tallied his lone pick-six of the year.
It was at the end of the schedule when the then-junior corner floundered. In the last three games of the season, Grant only put up 11 tackles with no deflections or interceptions. His withering at the end of last season can be explained by either an upgrade in competition via the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson, or perhaps just mere fatigue after having started the first 11 games of the season. Whatever the excuse, Grant has to make sure that he can contribute throughout the whole season if he wants to give the Buckeyes a chance at defending the pass in the latter part of the year.
Like his predecessor in Roby, Grant is a gifted athlete with loads of speed. He reportedly runs a 4.32 second 40-yard dash and won OSU’s fastest student contest, besting a number of OSU students outside of the football team as well as Buckeye H-back Dontre Wilson. Grant also has experience on his side, as he has played in 39 games during his time in Columbus.
Additionally, Grant is the only returning member of the Buckeye’s secondary who started all 14 games last season. As the seasoned veteran of the corner unit, it is important for Grant to establish himself as a strong leader for the underclassmen below him on depth chart, who include junior Armani Reeves, sophomore Cam Burrows and redshirt-freshman Eli Apple.
What is perhaps most concerning about Grant’s position in the Buckeyes’ defensive backfield is that he lacks no true replacement. Reeves showed flashes last season with three pass deflections against Buffalo and six tackles against Iowa. However, like Grant, it was inconsistency that plagued Reeves. The other members of the corner unit –– Apple and Burrows –– are very green and will need to prove themselves early on in the 2014 campaign.
Grant’s first real test will come on Sept. 6 against Virginia Tech under the lights at Ohio Stadium. On the outside, Virginia Tech has sophomore receivers Joshua Stanford and Demitri Knowles, who are each coming off 600-plus receiving yard seasons in 2013.
OSU’s first game of the season is scheduled for Aug. 30 when the Buckeyes face Navy in Baltimore, Md.