COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s hard to ignore the fact that Ohio State is replacing 16 starters from last year’s 2015 team, primarily because no one wants to stop talking about it.
Damon Webb doesn’t want to talk about 2015, though. That makes a good deal of sense, of course. Webb missed more than half of the season thanks to a suspension — the reasons of which were never publicly disclosed — and he’s ready to move on to 2016.
“It was frustrating,” Webb told the media on Thursday. “But that was last year. I’m moving on to this year. I might as well leave it in the past.”
The frustrations of 2015 aren’t all that the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Webb is leaving behind. The Detroit native came to Ohio State in 2014 as the country’s fifth-ranked cornerback, but last spring he was asked to move to safety.
It’s a move Webb was eager to make.
“I had a great reaction,” Webb said of the move from corner. “(Urban) Meyer asked me if I wanted to play safety and I said, ‘Without a doubt.’ I feel like my transition’s been real good.”
Part of the reason the transition has been so smooth is that Ohio State’s free safety position — what they call ‘the falcon’ position — requires as much man-to-man coverage as playing cornerback does. That’s helped Webb make the move and feel comfortable doing it.
“Even though I play safety now, we’re still in a man scheme, so it’s still basically the same position, the falcon position, we call it a field corner,” Webb said. “So playing corner definitely helped me out a lot. That’s definitely what (safeties coach) Greg Schiano, Kerry Coombs and (Urban) Meyer are looking for, safeties that can also play corner and can play man-to-man coverage.”
Man-to-man coverage is where Webb earned his reputation as a lockdown cornerback in high school. But now, running with the starters at safety for the Buckeyes, he’s starting from scratch. To do that, he’s going to rely on Schiano and learn from what Ohio State’s new co-defensive coordinator brings to the locker room and the field.
“I feel like he’s had a great impact,” Webb said of the help Schiano has provided the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense. “A lot of players on our team respect him, and I know he has a lot of knowledge of the game. I know he’s going to bring a philosophy to our defense to take us to the next level. He wants us to be more up-tempo, more energy.”
That energy, Webb says, is evident in practice as Ohio State looks to separate those who can play this fall from those who can’t. He’s a starter now – kind of – but he knows that each and every day is a grind to keep that position, especially going head-to-head with safety Erick Smith, who is coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him for the second half of the 2015 season.
“It’s been going hard every day. I don’t care if I’m with the ones or the twos, I’m still going hard,” Webb said. “Eric’s been going hard, too. We don’t look at it as a battle. We’re just trying to get better.”
On Friday, Ohio State has its first set of two-a-day practices. On Saturday, it’s the first scrimmage. That’s when things change, because that’s when Webb will find out who is who.
“It’s going to be difficult but you just have to have a positive attitude,” Webb said of the next two days of work. “You have to do it anyway, so you might as well have the right mindset. Get your body right, hot and cold tub, go to the trainer and get stretched out, stuff like that.
“We’ll get up for the scrimmage, to finally see what guys can do. Guys can prove themselves in the first scrimmage, and it’s the first time we get to come together as the whole defense and scrimmage it out.”
It’s been three long years for Webb to finally get a chance to prove what he can do. He says he’s ready for it.
“Most definitely,” he said when asked if he’s ready to start safety this season. “I went through the summer program and Coach Mick (Marotti, Ohio State’s strength and conditioning coach) has got me feeling right. I’m ready to take that next step.”