Three Preseason Storylines: The Defensive Backs

Chris Ash

New defensive backs coach Chris Ash has brought a new level of excitement to the Ohio State secondary. Implementing his aggressive Cover 4 scheme has been the main focus this off-season. After seeing the test drive of it in the spring game go pretty successfully, fans are excited and anxious to see how effective it is in a real game scenario. Of course with every new scheme there will be growing pains, especially if you mix in a young group of players to learn it. Here are a few things to keep an eye on in fall camp and early in the season.

Who Starts Opposite of Doran Grant?
Doran Grant will fill the shoes of 1st round pick Bradley Roby. Yes, I did not leave that as an open ended question, that was a statement, Doran Grant will fill the shoes of Bradley Roby. The real question that faces these corners is who will fill Grant’s shoes? Armani Reeves seems to be the popular pick, but Gareon Conley and Eli Apple are making a legitimate case for either of themselves.

Reeves experience and physicality have helped him standout early on, however I do not think Reeves has the talent or length to play the scheme. Reeves enjoys playing press coverage, however he is only 5’9 or 5’10, at best, compared to Apple or Conley who are 6’0 plus and both very long. Also, Reeves is not very fluid once he has to turn and run with receivers. Both Conley and Apple are long and smooth in the hips, and do a much better job locating the ball.

So if not Reeves, than who? In all honestly its a toss up. Both Conley and Apple are both long and fluid. Apple may have the slight edge in coverage while Conley is slightly better against the run, but you’re pretty much splitting hairs between the two. Both in my opinion are a better option in Ash’s new scheme rather than Reeves.

Will it be Bell or Burrows?
Lets just all come to the agreement that Powell will start at strong safety. The battle for free safety could be the most important battle on this defense. The good news is that there is a plethora of talent competing for it. Vonn Bell and Cam Burrows are the two players battling for first team reps in camp. Their battle is similar to Apple’s and Conley’s. Basically flip a coin and either name it lands on would be a great option moving forward.

The reason this battle is so important is due to Ash’s expectations of his safeties. Ash likes to have two safeties who are interchangeable and both quality communicators. Both Bell and Burrows both have good football IQ’s and are comfortable in run support and coverage. Bell’s performance in the Orange Bowl last year will certainly help his cause, but he can not afford to slip up. Burrows is equally talented and will be neck and neck with him going through camp.

Who is the Heart of this Secondary?
There has to be one voice in this secondary that trumps all others. One player has to step up and take command when uncertainty arises or a mistake occurs. Who will be that leader? Doran Grant and Tyvis Powell seem to have the personalities to match. The issue for Grant is that it is very hard to lead from the cornerback position, especially with the expectation of him being a shut down corner. He will primarily be focused on his island and taking care of his business as he should.

The leadership has to come from the middle of the field. It should come from a player who is not only confident in his abilities but also instills confidence in his teammates and their abilities. He has to be a tone setter for this secondary. Someone who is not afraid to show his swagger and then back it up with his play. He has to be mature enough to understand the importance of every play, but also understand the value of having a short term memory. If a leader like that can come to the forefront for this secondary, look out. These guys have the talent, if a leader steps up and they form some confidence as a unit they have the talent to be one of the best secondaries in America.

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