When the 2015 season ended, the Ohio State Buckeyes lost 14 players to the National Football League, and that departure touched every level on both offense and defense, but perhaps, nowhere were the losses more significant than in the secondary.
The Buckeyes lost three key defensive backs, cornerback Eli Apple and safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, all of whom gave up years of eligibility to pursue their professional football dreams, thus leaving junior cornerback Gareon Conley as the lone returning starter for 2016, a role he has relished.
“It just means I need to be held to a higher standard,” Conley said earlier this week. “The guys last year held me to that same standard and I didn’t leave. I just need to hold the younger guys to that same standard this year.”
The New York Giants selected Apple with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Apple finished the 2015 season with 33 total tackles, including 23 solo stops to go along with two tackles for lost yardage. Also, Apple intercepted one pass, which he returned for an eight-yard gain, and recovered a fumble.
The New Orleans Saints selected Bell with the No. 61 overall pick.
A starter in 28 of his 42 career games with the Buckeyes, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Bell earned first-team All-American status in 2015 from the Associated Press, The Sporting News and SI.com by making 65 total tackles and defending a team-best nine passes.
Powell is currently fighting to make the Seattle Seahawks’ roster as an undrafted free agent.
“That was weird,” Conley said. “Those guys were my best friends and I was roommates with Eli, but I still talk to them. I know all the young guys and their time is now to step up and show what they can do.”
Although the Buckeyes are breaking in three new members of their secondary heading into today’s regular-season opener against the Bowling Green State Falcons at Ohio Stadium, Conley remains confident in the abilities that allowed him to make 33 solo and 49 total tackles, break up five passes and collect two interceptions on the way to an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten Conference selection in 2015.
“I don’t really feel pressure about that,” Conley said. “I’m really not thinking about that right now. I’m just worried about having a good year and I am worried about my team. All that stuff I can worry about come the end of the year.”