CB Eli Apple fits press coverage scheme

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He's just a redshirt sophomore and young in the game, but the measurables and skill set of CB Eli Apple give the Ohio State product a high ceiling. It also has NFL clubs looking for a size corner with press cover skills highly interested.

It begins with Apple's size. At 6-1 and 199 pounds, he has the length that NFL clubs covet knowing receivers are only getting taller with each passing season. Having 4.4 speed (fifth-best at NFL combine among cornerbacks) and solid strength to muscle up with big wideouts there is a lot for NFL secondary coaches to work with in Apple.

"Apple is a big corner," said ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper. "He's a great athlete. He did real well against some top receivers. He's only a third-year sophomore. That's attractive. He's going to be way up there on a lot of boards."

Apple was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes and played both press and zone concepts in Ohio State's defensive scheme. He finished second on the team in pass breakups in each of his two seasons posting a total of 21 in 2014 and 2015. He had four interceptions and plays an aggressive style that is appealing to NFL general managers.

"That's the main thing I do," Apple said. "I'm a physical guy and I get up on receivers and impact them. Just my press man cover skills. That's something in the NFL that's really important, to be a physical guy at the line of scrimmage and be able to take receivers off their path. And that's something I do better than anybody, in my opinion. My press technique is to me better than everybody out there."

While a good number of NFL scouts have praised Apple's improvement with his cover techniques he does have a history of being a bit too hands-on. In his two seasons he was flagged 11 times, seven for pass interference and four for defensive holding.

Apple has taken that feedback from NFL scouts and coaches and has been working on being more aware and consistent with the use of his hands in coverage.

"As a corner, there's always stuff you need to work on," he said. "Your hand placement. That's something I've been watching film on, making sure my hands are always in the right place and making sure I don't get flags unnecessarily."

ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay believes part of the reason Apple got flagged as much as he did was due in part to the technique coached by the Ohio State staff.

"They play a certain technique when the ball is in the air you keep your back to it and work from the waist up and drive through the ball and break it up," McShay said. "They don't have their DBs turn and try to locate the ball in the air. He got in a little trouble with pass interference and making plays on the ball based on the technique they were using. He'll adjust and try to make more plays on the ball as he moves through his career."

Apple reportedly had a pre-draft visit with the Bills along with a host of other Ohio State draft prospects. Buffalo's interest makes sense. With solid press cover skills he'd be a good fit in the Bills defensive scheme, which plays a lot of press coverage and two-man concepts. Being an aggressive run support corner only helps his cause.

"His tape is good at Ohio State," said McShay. "I think his best games were late in the season and that's what you want to see. I think he's got the length. He proved that he has the speed and I think he's a good all-around player. What he does better than a lot of the corners coming out is he tackles. He'll support the run and he cares and he's diligent in keeping outside contain and funneling things back inside."

Following a solid pro day workout and the added benefit of covering receiver prospects like Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller every day in practice in college, Apple is an ascending player as the draft draws closer.

"It starts with preparation," said Apple. "I know how good I am, I know from watching film of myself and just going out there and competing at a high level against guys you see on this platform. I do well against the top receivers and that's where my confidence comes from.

"Every time you're going against these great athletes you have to have a chip on your shoulder. Sometimes you're going to get beat, it happens, but you've just got to move on and just go to the next play and try to get them the next play. Get even feistier and more chippy."

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