Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs was part of Bradley Roby’s inner circle as the third-year sophomore was deciding whether to turn pro after last season, and Coombs tried to give objective feedback regardless of what that might mean for the Buckeyes.
Staying neutral, though, wasn’t always easy.
“It’s very hard in a situation like that to not be selfish,” he said. “We’re better with him at Ohio State. Everybody gets that. At the same time, let’s make the best decision for you because then I can go to the next (recruit) and say, ‘Here’s what we did, here’s the process. When you come to Ohio State, we’re going to treat you like a man and make grown up decisions.’
“My conversations with him were, ‘Let’s take the emotion out of it. We’re going to be fine, Bradley, at Ohio State. We’re going to win games if you’re not here. Are we going to be better with you? Do I want you here? Yeah, absolutely. But let’s make it a business decision.’ I tried to give him the information and then get out of his space.”
Although he felt ready for the NFL, the All-Big Ten player decided to return for another season at OSU.
“The NFL isn’t going anywhere and I’m not in a rush,” Roby said. “It was a tough decision, and it took a while to decide, but I made the right one.”
The Buckeyes have been churning out first-round picks at cornerback over the years, including Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Ahmed Plummer, Nate Clements, Chris Gamble and Malcolm Jenkins. And Roby likely will join their ranks next year.
“I think it was an outstanding decision, by the way,” Coombs said. “I think his stock does nothing but go up.”
Roby’s return assures the Buckeyes of having a tested and talented secondary while trying to fill holes almost everywhere else on defense. All-conference linebacker Ryan Shazier is the only returner among the front seven, although defensive linemen Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt saw considerable playing time as freshmen in 2012 and are expected to blossom this season.
C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant are back at safety. And Doran Grant, the third cornerback last season, is expected to take over for the graduated Travis Howard.
Tyvis Powell, Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown, Najee Murray and Adam Griffin also are among those in the defensive backfield mix, as are a pair of early-enrollee freshmen, Trotwood-Madison product Cameron Burrows and Eli Apple, a New Jersey native.
The Buckeyes are so deep at safety and cornerback that they’ve been lining up in their nickel and dime packages more frequently, putting five and six defensive backs on the field.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can play in the back end. It’s a different team, and every team takes on a different style,” Coombs said. “We want to take advantage of the strength of our players. That’s what our job is as coaches. We’ve got a lot of kids who are fast. And they’re playing fast. That’s exciting. We’ve got to use speed to our advantage.”
Powell is currently the nickel back, and Coombs said the redshirt freshman has made the biggest jump among the group from last season. Apple and Burrows also have made a favorable impression.
“Eli makes a lot of plays on the ball,” Roby said. “I think he’s had two pick-sixes so far (in practice). Cam is a bigger, stronger guy. He’s good on the line. He has good make-up speed. They have promise of being pretty good.
“I like to say Ohio State is DB U.,” he added, meaning a school known for producing defensive backs. “And I’m trying to help them so when I leave, they’re ready to take my place.”