COLUMBUS: The questioner thought the answer was obvious, presuming that senior H-back Dontre Wilson is the Buckeyes’ fastest man.
But according to Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, that distinction goes to sophomore cornerback Denzel Ward of Nordonia High School.
“Denzel Ward’s probably the fastest on the team,” Meyer said Sunday during OSU media day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “He [was] DQ’d in the state 100 [meters], but he got the 200-meter championship (in 2015), so he’s legit, track fast.”
Cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs doesn’t dispute Ward’s “fastest man” title. Ward clocked 21.8 mph on a special teams play during last season’s Fiesta Bowl.
“We put those little chips on their shoulder pad and measure how fast they run, and he’s a 21.6 mph guy,” Coombs said. “There’s one thing about track speed, which he has, but there’s also game speed. He has game speed. If he’s not the fastest, he’s real close.”
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Ward says he’s stronger and faster than when he arrived at OSU, but isn’t looking at any stopwatches.
“Coach does time us,” he said, referring to Mickey Marotti, assistant athletic director for football sports performance. “We time the 10-yard dash and 3-cone and broad jump. I haven’t checked the other players’ times. We’ve got a lot of fast players.”
After playing 175 of his 196 plays in 2015 on special teams, Ward could be a key contributor in the secondary this season, fighting for a starting spot opposite junior Gareon Conley. If Ward is beaten out, he’ll vie for time at nickel or dime back.
Ward said he concentrated on speed as a freshman, and now he’s working on his technique, especially getting his hands on receivers. Meyer said the Buckeyes have four legitimate bump-and-run cornerbacks.
“The thing he’s got to do better in press coverage is just using his hands at the line of scrimmage, getting on-body coverage and staying tight,” Coombs said. “Being able to play extended series and being able to play with the game on the line in front of 110,000 people.
“I don’t have any doubt he’s going to be able to do that. He ran down on kickoff team in big games in big situations and made dynamic plays. He’s had a phenomenal fall camp. I have every expectation he’s going to walk out on the field and he’s going to be an impact player.”
Coombs said Ward was great during spring practice, then took another leap in the offseason, calling his weightlifting “remarkable” as Ward bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times.
“He’s second-strongest guy in the [cornerback]room,” Coombs said. “He doesn’t look like it, but you combine that speed and that strength … he can change directions and break on the ball. He was a great receiver in high school; he’s got great ball skills. I’m just excited to see him play. He’s real now.”
Big week ahead
Meyer is calling this season “The Edge,” following themes of “The Chase” in 2014, when OSU won the first College Football Playoff, and “The Grind” in 2015, when it finished fourth in the Associated Press poll after beating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. That moniker will be put to the test this week, when the Buckeyes go through nine practices in six days.
“This week will make or break us,” Meyer said. “We have 29 practices before the first game, basically 24 the rest of the year. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on training camp.
“I would say we’re very average right now, and we’re going to find out this next week if we cross that edge … This week will determine if we’ll be any good.”
Urban on Bosa
Nick Bosa, a freshman defensive end, is wearing his brother Joey’s No. 97. A two-time All-American, Joey departed after his junior season and was drafted third overall by the San Diego Chargers. Joey Bosa was listed at 6-foot-5 and 278 pounds last season; Nick is 6-4 and 265.
Asked what is reasonable to expect from the freshman, Meyer said, “I hate to use the word patience, because I’ll never forget when I sent the text message to the Bosa family — John, Cheryl, and Joey — about Nick, and Joey hit me back on a group text and said, ‘Have patience’ and I simply said, ‘No.’
“But we are being very patient with him. He hasn’t been in full scrimmage situation yet. We’re making sure that knee’s 100 percent sound, which it is. We’re just easing him in. He comes from an excellent high school program, very well-coached, and he’ll be game-ready.”
Nick Bosa, a five-star prospect from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., suffered a torn ACL in November, and noted orthopedist James Andrews performed his surgery. Ohio State opens the season at home Sept. 3 against Bowling Green.
Bosa and freshman Jonathon Cooper from Gahanna Lincoln could be pressed into service after Meyer announced that sophomore defensive end Darius Slade ruptured an Achilles and would be lost for the season.
Junior offensive lineman Malcolm Pridgeon, expected to compete for a backup job, suffered a knee injury that required surgery. Meyer said Pridgeon would be out for three months, leaving the coach concerned about the line’s depth.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.