“There is tremendous value in appreciating what you’ve earned.”
Those were the words of Ohio State cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs on Tuesday when he addressed the media after spring practice No. 9.
Coombs, now entering his fourth season at OSU, said the Buckeyes should be able to reflect on and celebrate the school’s eighth national title from 2015, but they also need to focus on the task at hand.
For now, part of that task is replacing Doran Grant at cornerback as spring practice rolls on.
But while one corner spot remains open, the other has been locked down by redshirt-sophomore Eli Apple, who Coombs said has impressed throughout spring practice.
“Eli was coming off of an illness last spring, and we didn’t have any idea of how he was going to play,” Coombs said Tuesday. “I thought he had a very good season and I think he has had a much better offseason and spring than he has ever had.”
Apple accumulated 53 total tackles last season and added three interceptions while playing in all 15 games, including 14 starts.
He also led the team in pass breakups with 10, edging out Grant, who totaled nine in his senior campaign.
But even though Apple has momentum heading into 2015, Coombs said the returning starter is not yet a complete product.
“He is not finished, and he knows that. We talk about that all the time,” Coombs said. “(I am) really excited about him.”
As for the position mirroring Apple, Coombs seemed to have narrowed the competition down to two players.
Redshirt-sophomore Gareon Conley was the first name out of Coombs’ mouth when asked about the other corner spot, and he added that Conley has bulked up this offseason.
“Gareon has had a very good spring. He has put on weight, he has put on strength,” Coombs said. “He showed up at 168 pounds, now he’s 190 pounds. He is a very fast player, (and) his skill set continues to improve.”
Conley played sparingly last season, totaling 16 tackles to go along with two pass breakups. He earned a start against Michigan State, but was replaced by Apple after giving up an early touchdown.
Coombs also named a player who is getting his first taste of college football spring practice.
“(Sophomore) Damon Webb, this is his first spring. It’s a lot, it’s hard. He is playing corner and nickel and he is handling it extremely well,” Coombs said. “He is one of the most competitive players on the team.”
And while the two-horse race might come down to Conley and Webb, Coombs added he is hopeful that redshirt-freshman Marshon Lattimore will be available next week for full-speed drills.
Lattimore suffered a season-ending injury toward the beginning of the 2014-15 season.
With a number of young players set to make an impact in 2015, Coombs said he still believes his unit will be able to maintain the success of the press-man coverage defense that was implemented last season.
“They will be good and ready,” Coombs said. “I love my room right now, I love my unit. They are really working at the craft of studying themselves, grading themselves every day; they show up ready to work.”
The Buckeyes are set to play their annual Spring Game at Ohio Stadium on April 18 before starting the 2015 regular season on the road against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Sept. 7.