by Aaron Hyder | Athletics Communications Assistant
Ohio State’s cornerbacks exude a sense of confidence that is unrivaled, and they play with a swagger that will make you wary of throwing at them.
Working under the tutelage of sixth year coach Kerry Coombs, the cornerbacks know they must arrive on campus with an expectation to make an impact right away.
“Our kids believe they’re going to play,” Coombs said. “So, their level of urgency about everything they do is raised. Because they know they’re not coming to sit the bench. They’re coming to play. When I recruit them and tell them they are going to play, it’s the truth.”
Denzel Ward is the most experienced returner from the cornerback unit of 2016 that produced spectacular results. Playing as part of a three-man rotation with NFL first rounder’s Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore last year, Ward played 468 snaps at the position and broke up nine passes thrown his way. Ward, asked about his thoughts of the three-man rotation, had only good things to say about the unit and how the number of plays were spread out last year.
“I felt fresher than I thought I would have been if it was only two starters,” Ward mentioned. “I think Gareon (Conley) and Marshon (Lattimore) also enjoyed having a little more depth. (They) were able to come to the bench and get a breather, and then get back in, ready to go.”
One of the fellow corners he will most assuredly be playing with this fall is Damon Arnette. The redshirt sophomore saw action in all 13 games last season and picked off a pass against Nebraska while recording 21 tackles. Competition makes units better and Arnette loves what the cornerback crew has going for them.
“I just look at it as, we’re just trying to go out there and get better,” Arnette noted. “You go out there trying to push each other trying to get better and Coach Coombs loves the rotation. As you guys saw last year, it was great. We just go out there and push each other to become better.”
Arnette has a self confidence that is unparalleled, and Coach Coombs has taken note of that.
“Damon’s always had really good physical skills,” Coombs said. “He’s got charisma, he’s got juice and he will remind you of Bradley Roby when he’s on the field with the swagger and the way he plays, and I love that about him.
“Everyday I’ve got to pull him back. He’ll still make some of those mistakes that come from a momentary lack of focus. But I’m telling you right now, he’s a football player.”
A young crop of corners will continue to push the current corners for playing time. Kendall Sheffield, a junior college transfer, has turned heads since arriving this spring, and true freshmen Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade, Marcus Williamson and Amir Riep have all been learning quickly on the job. Ward, being the experienced veteran in the unit, has made a point of paving the path for young guys to follow.
“I’m taking more of a leadership role this year,” Ward said. “Just trying to help the young guys. Doing what I can do to help the team out. I feel they’re responding good. The players have been coming out ready to go and everybody has been playing hard. Just talking to them, helping them with communication and assignments on and off the field.”
Every single one of Coach Coombs’ starting corners have reached the NFL, including three first round draft picks in the last two years. Asked about living up to the hype of playing for such a lauded group, Arnette looks forward to embracing the challenge this fall.
“There’s a responsibility (to play well). We’re Ohio State.”