When the Ohio State depth chart came out on Tuesday, almost every Buckeye fan knew whose name would be beside the starting cornerback spot. Redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley played extensively last season and earned the respect of his peers and coaches. So much so, Conley is the lead cornerback coming into 2016.
The naming was obvious, due to the seniority of the Massillon, Ohio, native. Conley has played in 28 games in his career, which is more than twice as many as the next most experienced cornerback.
The competition for the second cornerback position between redshirt sophomore Marshon Lattimore and sophomore Denzel Ward was highly followed throughout spring camp for OSU. On more than one occasion, OSU coach Urban Meyer fielded questions from reporters during press conferences about who would be the man opposite Conley.
Meyer has refrained from saying who would fill the void. The release of the 2016 depth chart provided no clarity to the question either, as both players were listed as possible starters.
Predominantly, OSU is a team that thrives on the production of its starters. Meyer said, however, this year the team is enjoying a level of depth that allows for a change in philosophy.
“I equate it to if you get a very, very good team with depth, it’s a little bit like those shifts in hockey,” Meyer said. “You go as hard as you possibly can, and then come out.”
Meyer said that with quality players backing up starters at key positions, the Buckeyes can give more intensity for a shorter number of plays, rather than having to conserve energy over the course of the entire game.
The idea behind the rotation is not unique to the secondary. Players at linebacker, defensive end and running back will all be rotating in-and-out for at least the first week of the season.
Conley said he understands that the rotation is something different for an OSU football team, but he is confident in the ability of both Lattimore and Ward, as well as all other members of the team that will be interchanging against Bowling Green.
“I feel like it doesn’t impact us,” Conley said. “The chemistry we have with our teammates — we hold them to a standard that is as if no one left last year.”
As said by Meyer and other Buckeye coaches throughout spring drills, each member of the secondary brings a unique skill set to the field. Lattimore is known for his quickness and strength, whereas Ward is regarded as one of the fastest on the team.
Even though rotating in key position players could negatively impact the productivity of the unit, the OSU coaching staff and Conley feel as though the players are ready to take on the challenge that comes with defending Bowling Green’s spread offense.
“Our standard is so high that they have to come up with plays and be ready. Our culture is just — you gotta prepare every day like it’s a game,” Conley said. “I feel like our young guys are real focused and they have something to prove for themselves.”
Conley and the rest of the OSU secondary will be put to the test against Bowling Green on Saturday at noon in Ohio Stadium.