COLUMBUS, Ohio — The 2017 NFL Draft was a great day for Ohio State and Kerry Coombs. Even better, the next day came without fears of how that talent would be replaced.
The Buckeyes had two cornerbacks come off the board in the first round: Marshon Lattimore went No. 11 to New Orleans and Gareon Conley was selected No. 24 by Oakland. That obviously makes for a fun party the night of the draft, when coaches watch players experience one of the best days of their lives.
— Kerry Coombs (@OsuCoachCoombs) April 28, 2017
While the player moves on to his next destination, a coach’s attention turns to how he’ll replace that star. Coombs is losing two stars, players who accounted for 8 of Ohio State’s 21 interceptions last year. Watching that much production vanish overnight is enough to cause nightmares.
But thanks to a system implemented in 2016, Coombs is already more than halfway to solving that riddle. Last fall, despite their status as future first-rounders, starters Conley and Lattimore rotated evenly with Denzel Ward.
Because of that, Coombs bristles whenever writers refer to Ward as a backup. As far as he’s concerned, Ward is a returning starter.
“I know he didn’t walk out for the first snap of the game, but [Ward] played the same number of snaps as Marshon and Gareon,” Coombs said. “We had a true three-man rotation. There was never a series where he didn’t go in and somebody didn’t come out.
“He’s as good as the other two. I played three guys of equal talent and ability. I don’t run out a guy who’s not as good as the other guys. Who would do that? Have you met my boss?”
That last line, a joke referencing the demanding nature of head coach Urban Meyer, summed up his position perfectly. As such, he’s well on his way to replacing the two departed stars.
Last year, Lattimore and Ward helped pick up the slack after Eli Apple left. This year, the Buckeyes have a slew of young players looking to line up opposite Ward. Ward was joined on the first team in spring by Damon Arnette, who had a great spring. The incoming class includes five talented cornerbacks, all of whom will battle for playing time. Four of those players enrolled early and took part in spring practice.
While that competition rages, Ward has been answering questions from the freshmen and showing them the ropes. His status as not only a third-year player but one who has played starter reps has been a valuable asset.
“It’s exciting,” Ward said. “I’m ready to take that leadership role in the cornerback room and just help lead the team.”