COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field this spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline.
But the pressure isn't the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won't be sweating a competition for a starting job -- obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But determining the backup to Braxton Miller is just one of the intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and after already tackling that topic and three others, the countdown concludes with what figures to be the hottest, most critical competition in camp.
No. 1: Cornerback
Predecessor: Bradley Roby (69 tackles, 16 passes defended, three interceptions, two blocked kicks, two touchdowns; declared early for the NFL draft)
Why to watch: The weakness of the Ohio State defense last season was obviously no secret, and removing the supremely talented Roby from the equation in pass coverage only adds to the degree of difficulty in trying to fix it for co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Thanks to a recruiting haul in the secondary during the last two seasons that might be the best in the nation, though, the new assistant coach is inheriting a roster with enough skill and athleticism to make those improvements and turn the Buckeyes back into an aggressive, lockdown defense. Doran Grant didn't receive nearly as much acclaim for his work in coverage last year as Roby, but he left little room to doubt that he's capable of taking over as the top dog at cornerback, leaving at least three guys to fight for the other spot. The battle is only going to become more heated when Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore arrive on campus in the fall, but the Buckeyes definitely won't be short on options during the spring.
Pre-camp edge: Grant parlayed some action off the bench two years ago into a springboard to a starting job last spring, and Reeves appears to be in line for the same type of jump after being pressed into a fair amount of action as a sophomore. Reeves finished the season with 26 tackles, eight passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble, and while he didn't quite seem ready for a full-time role yet, he has had a taste of success and what it takes to succeed at this level, which should give him an early advantage over Apple and Conley. Both of those young guys, though, were highly coveted recruits a year ago for a reason, and their athleticism could help them close the gap and make a legitimate push for a starting spot as the Buckeyes try to address their biggest defensive shortcoming from 2013.