Gareon Conley becomes leader of Ohio State’s young defensive backs


COLUMBUS – Gareon Conley never felt alone.

Even though the junior cornerback was the only returning starter in Ohio State’s defensive backfield, he talked up the young players around him in the preseason. And his opinion hasn’t changed after what he saw in OSU’s 77-10 opening day win over Bowling Green.

What Conley might have liked best was the confidence he saw coming from those young players against BG.

“None of them were scared or frightened. They were real confident,” he said.

Conley could be the next in a line of outstanding cornerbacks from Ohio State to go to the NFL.

Eli Apple was a first-round NFL draft choice this year and Bradley Roby was a first-rounder in 2014. Malcolm Jenkins was a first-round choice in 2009, as were Chris Gamble in 2004, Antoine Winfield in 1999 and Shawn Springs in 1997.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer thinks Conley can play on Sunday in the future.

“He’s playing at a high, high level right now,” Meyer said. “He’s an NFL corner someday.”

Conley, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season in his first year as a starter, has been cast in the role of a leader in the defensive backfield. Both safeties, Malik Hooker and Damon Webb, and the other cornerback, Marshon Lattimore, are first-year starters.

“We can always improve. I gave up a couple balls. But overall I feel like our secondary was real good,” Conley said about the Bowling Green game.

The Buckeyes defense limited Bowling Green starting quarterback James Knapke to 12 of 33 passing for 110 yards and no touchdowns.

OSU intercepted Knapke twice, both of them by Hooker in his first start. On the first of the two interceptions Hooker tipped the ball into the air then grabbed it on a second chance.

That play had some of Ohio State’s players on the sidelines humming the ESPN theme music, offensive lineman Billy Price said.

Hooker’s athleticism was no surprise to Conley. “I knew it was coming. I was waiting for it to happen. I expected everything I saw,” he said. “He’s my best friend and probably one of the most athletic dudes I know.”

Conley was in the position of the younger Buckeyes last year when he was the first-year starter along with veterans Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell.

“Every game I was just getting more confident with myself, knowing I was out there to play. Knowing that your teammates and the coaching staff are confident to put you out there, that boosts your game up.”

Conley says he has enthusiastically accepted a leadership role.

“Our expectations don’t change. We expect to be the best. We have to get people ready. It falls on the leaders of the team to do that,” he said.

By Jim Naveau

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Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.

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