COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s hard to beat his record of churning out NFL talent, but Kerry Coombs’ defining legacy at Ohio State might be his implementation of a cornerback rotation in 2016.
Coombs left Ohio State this offseason to become the Tennessee Titans cornerbacks coach, but it appears that the Buckeyes will try to continue the rotation if new position coach Taver Johnson feels comfortable with the talent he’s inherited.
That shouldn’t be a problem given that Ohio State brings back Damon Arnette, Kendall Sheffield and Jeffrey Okudah. Additionally, Shaun Wade is healthy after missing his first season with a lingering abdominal injury. Of those four players, three were rated as 5-star recruits in high school.
“If we have three guys that can [rotate], yes, you would like to for sure,” Johnson said Wednesday. “And I think we do. I know that’s definitely helped us and benefited us, and that’s something, especially at that position, which is big, because all of the running and things that go into playing that spot.
“And the nickel comes out of the cornerback room as well. So to answer your question, yes I do. When? I’m not sure. We just have to make sure we get to that.”
Coombs began that strategy in 2016 when, despite losing Eli Apple to the NFL draft, the Buckeyes found a way to rotate three players at the cornerback spot. Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley got the first series in most games but played an equal number of reps with Denzel Ward. That meant when Lattimore or Conley left the field Ohio State was pulling a future first-round pick off the field. Of course, the player who filled in is widely projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2108 NFL Draft.
Last year Ward, Arnette and Sheffield comprised a three-man rotation for the Buckeyes. With Ward off to the NFL, there are plenty of options to pair with Arnette and Sheffield, the two most likely players to get the first series of each game.
Okudah came on strong at the end of 2017, winning praise from teammates and coaches for his play in bowl practices. After he recovers from shoulder surgery he should be fully healthy for the first time in a couple of years.
Wade is another intriguing option, given that he was one of the most talented members of the Class of 2017 before spending his first year on the sidelines because of the abdominal injury.
Regardless, it seems almost certain that the Buckeyes will again continue to rotate at cornerback. Coombs believed that fast, fresh cornerbacks gave Ohio State the best chance to have success in the secondary. It appears that his idea has become a part of the Buckeyes’ defensive identity.
“With all the press man [coverage] that we play, I feel like the rotation of corners is something that’s just become a part of Ohio State,” Okudah said. “Even though Coach Coombs is gone, I feel like it’s part of the culture now. If we have enough corners that can play effectively on the field, then they’re going to see the field.”
Talent doesn’t seem to be a problem, so it looks like the rotation is here to stay for the foreseeable future.