COLUMBUS, Ohio — Marshon Lattimore will make the difference. If he’s healthy, the Ohio State battle to start at cornerback opposite Gareon Conley will be filled with stars – and the most dynamic battle of the preseason.
The Buckeyes returned from spring break and conducted their third practice of spring football on Tuesday. Watching the first hour of practice, Lattimore was lining up as a starter more often than the other contenders. It was a reminder to keep him in mind, because of who he was when he arrived in Columbus and who he still could be.
Lattimore has battled hamstring issues for two seasons, but he did get on the field at times last season when healthy. But his health has limited his chance to contribute.
It’s not just him. With Eli Apple leaving for the NFL, look at the three candidates to fill his starting role:
• Lattimore, the No. 52 overall recruit in the nation in 2014, according to 247sports.com.
• Damon Webb, the No. 35 overall recruit in the nation in 2014, according to 247sports.com.
• Denzel Ward, the No. 260 overall recruit in the nation in 2015, according to 247sports.com. Ward was one of four true freshmen to play last season, so you know the Buckeyes like him.
“We have three corners that our coaches feel very good about,” Urban Meyer said after practice Tuesday, naming Lattimore, Ward and Conley. “Marshon’s gotta stay healthy, because he is so talented.”
At practice Tuesday, at least as reporters watched, Lattimore went with with the first group in some 3-on-3 drills with the defense against the offense. Ward was right behind him. Webb, meanwhile worked as a first-team safety.
The reality here is that all three of the corners in this fight could wind up with somewhat significant playing time.
With safety Erick Smith still recovering from a torn ACL, one of the primary safety candidates is working out on the side and not taking part in full practice. That meant the first safeties in the drills Wednesday were Webb and Malik Hooker. While Hooker seems a strong leader for a starting spot, the second safety spot is in flux.
The health of Smith and Cam Burrows, who was back at practice Tuesday but was just shy of full participation, plays a role there. Burrows had foot surgery in the fall and didn’t take part in the first practice of the spring two weeks ago.
But corners Eric Glover-Williams and Webb are also getting looks at safety.
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs has said Webb is a corner. But the Buckeyes always talk about getting their best 11 players on the field. If Lattimore is 100 percent, and if Ward continues to progress, starting one of them at corner and sliding Webb to safety would make sense as a potential alternative.
• As the rest of the safeties moved through drills, Webb and Hooker ran with the first group, and Glover-Williams and walkon Jarrod Barnes with the second group. Burrows and Smith, in uniform, didn’t take part in that drill.
• At corner, Conley and Lattimore worked with the first group, and Ward and Joshua Norwood with the second group.
• At linebacker, Raekwon McMillan, Dante Booker and Chris Worley are the clear starters, with Jerome Baker behind Worley.
• The defensive line group will take a while to sort out among the 13 contenders. Redshirt freshman Dre’Mont Jones looked good in drills Tuesday and bears watching.
Redshirt freshman Jashon Cornell was working with tackles in the first practice but looked to be at end more on Tuesday. The top 100 recruit in the class of 2015 would seem to have a clearer path to playing time at tackle.
• Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill were once again in the first tackle group Tuesday, while Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes are the top ends since 2015 starting Tyquan Lewis is out for the spring with a shoulder injury.