Cornerback can be a lonely place on a football field. Sometimes it can even feel that way in the offseason, as Ohio State’s Damon Arnette can attest.
At spring practices in March, the Buckeyes began preparing for life without two cornerbacks headed to the NFL draft by bringing in four highly touted recruits who enrolled in school early.
Arnette, meanwhile, kept his head down and went about his business. In workouts he wore a confident, aggressive look. He stepped into receivers’ grills and challenged them to beat him.
Now, three weeks into Ohio State’s preseason camp, he still has that look, and he’s still running with the first team — and running his gums — along with Denzel Ward, who saw extensive time last season with starters Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley.
“Being a corner you’ve got to have something about yourself,” Arnette, a third-year sophomore, said Wednesday. “I know that if I try to get inside (a receiver’s) head in practice, that’s something that’s going to happen to them in a game. And if I’m doing it in practice every single day, that’s not going to bother them.”
So there’s a purpose, but Arnette said it’s also a type of game he prefers.
“That’s just what type of player I am. I like having fun out there,” he said. “I like knowing somebody else is worried about me covering them, and telling them that ‘Yeah, I’m right here.’ ”
His position coach, assistant defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, said Arnette is holding firm opposite Ward at the front of a line that includes junior-college transfer Kendall Sheffield and freshmen Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson. Coombs indicated all could be among the corner rotation when the season starts.
“He has always had really good physical skills and he has always been a little bit lacking from a maturity standpoint,” Coombs said of Arnette. “That’s a grown-man conversation that we’ve had over and over and over again.
“He has got charisma, he has got juice. He will remind you of (former OSU star) Bradley Roby when he’s on the field with the swagger and the way he plays. I love that about him.”
Arnette still makes mistakes on occasion from “a momentary lack of focus,” Coombs said, but “he’s a football player.”
Arnette said his more consistent play also shows he’s paying attention to his mentors.
“I’m not the same person; it took growing up to do,” he said. “I feel like when it comes to football I have a better understanding of everything of what coach Coombs teaches me, and what Denzel teaches me.”
He’s also finding motivation in the competition.
“We’ve got Okudah, Wade, Marcus, Amir (Riep), Kendall, me, Denzel — everybody I just named, they’re future first-rounders in my opinion,” Arnette said. “Nobody in our unit can go out there and feel like they don’t want to practice, because it’s deep.”