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Denzel Ward is Next Up at Ohio State's Cornerback Factory
By Tony Gerdeman
Denzel Ward makes a tackle as a true freshman during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.
Photo by Dan Harker

Denzel Ward's time is now, just like it was last year.

Ohio State is losing two cornerbacks to the first round of the NFL Draft this year in Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. Losing a pair of starters to the same draft isn't new for the Buckeyes, it's happened twice in the last 20 years (2009, 1997). Neither is sending a cornerback to the first round, which has happened eight times for OSU in that same span of time.

Supplying the NFL with first rounders may be nothing new, but returning a starting cornerback after sending two to the draft absolutely is.

No, Denzel Ward may have never actually started a game for the Buckeyes last season, but he was out there just as much as Lattimore and Conley. And now that they are gone, Ward has emerged as the leader of his position group.

"Denzel had a tough spring last year and I admire Denzel," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. "I admire him for many, many reasons, and for him to have come through that experience in the manner in which he did, there’s a toughness in there that you might not see because he’s such a good-looking kid. He’s not thug-like or anything like that. You see him, I’m telling you now, that is a special person. For him to come through that the manner in which he did, he doesn’t have to say anything in that room to lead. Those kids, the respect they have for him is incredible. They want to be around Denzel."

Replacing Lattimore and Conley is going to be a tough task, even at a place like Ohio State where cornerbacks seemingly come off of an assembly line. Having Ward already on hand and established is a blessing for the Buckeyes, but just how good is he?

"He’s really good," Coombs said. "Look at me – he’s really good. He’s as good as the other two. I played three guys of equal talent and ability. I don’t understand the question. Why is that a big thing to say. Listen to me, 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? He would say, 'Kerry, what are you doing? What are you doing?' Right? I mean who does that? There was no drop off."

Coombs doesn't see the big deal about Ward -- as a sophomore last year -- being as good as Lattimore and Conley because he saw it every day in practice. He saw the growth and the production.

"What I would tell you is from a production standpoint -- and you guys watched the games -- the production was identical for those three guys," he said. "So to somehow say that we were less when one went on the field would be an incredible injustice. Go back and check the numbers."

If you want to rankle Coombs, simply keep doubting that Ward could be on par with either of the cornerbacks the Buckeyes are losing to the NFL. Don't expect it to affect Ward, however, because he's just going to let his play prove the point.

"He knows," Coombs said. "I don’t think it’s motivation at all. I think that kid felt very comfortable in the rotation we were in. I don’t think he thinks about it at all. He’s a humble kid. I’m telling you he’s as good as the other two. He doesn’t have to say that, I’m telling you that. I think he believes it, he just doesn’t have to say it."

Player profiles relevant to story:
12 - Ward, Denzel
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