First up was the status of tailback Maurice Clarett. As most of you know by now, he will not participate in any live contact this spring. This has raised concerns that his shoulder injury is still lingering. Unfortunately, Tressel did not dispel those concerns.
"He doesn't have as much strength in that shoulder," Tressel said. "He's about 60 pounds below on the bench press, for instance, than he was a year ago at this time. I think that's simply an issue of that nerve situation in the shoulder that takes a long time to totally heal. But this spring, he'll be able to do everything, except for the live contact stuff. He's wearing the blue jersey. The guys wearing the yellows can't participate in any of the drills."
Craig Krenzel can participate in live drills this spring, he just can't be tackled. In fact, the coaching staff would prefer if CK wasn't even bumped or breathed on. Krenzel doesn't have an injury, but Tressel sees no reason to roll the dice with his veteran QB. Unless things start to look sloppy.
"Just to watch the progression he made, the command that he had, it came together for him last year," Tressel said. "Craig is going to be wearing the black jersey this spring. That means don't hit him. But if his footwook and decision making and so forth begins to be affected by the fact that people are slowing down around him, we are going to need to get him in some live situations. If it were up to him, he'd be live all the time. But for the moment, there's no question that he's a guy that I think has a feel for what needs to be done and we don't need to be banging on him right now."
With only 15 days of spring practice, there is a lot to get accomplished in a short period of time. There are just 29 days of practice during preseason camp, so a lot needs to be in place when camp opens. Therefore, is spring practice one-third of OSU's preparation for Washington? Is that how the five-time national champion coach is looking at it?
"Oh, it really is," Tressel said. "There's no question about it. And you know Washington's got Ohio State circled in the biggest, boldest circle there could be. I think as much of anything, the awareness of how important these days are has got to be there, but I think our guys - coaches included - are just excited to be working on 2003 and quit hearing about 2002. You get tired of hearing about it. We're very, very proud, but our guys are anxious to show you what they can do tomorrow."
Is repeating as national champions and leaving a legacy the goal of this year's team?
"Absolutely," Tressel said. "As I listen to the guys that are rising seniors, I think there are a few things that go through their minds. One is that they want to prove that they're just as good leaders and that they are going to be able to lead their troops to as extraordinary things as the last group did. I think two, there's a few of them that have voiced to me that they've heard off and on that maybe the Buckeyes were fortunate after all those type games and upset the national champions and all that kind of thing. And, you know, I think there's a lot of them that would like to have an exclamation point next to 2003."
The Buckeyes opened spring practice in, well, springlike conditions. It was warm, windy and sunny. A nice day to be outside.
"After this winter, it's nice to have a 70 degree day. I think that lifted everyone's spirits," Tressel said.
Tressel was asked to put himself in the players' shoes for a minute. How do they honestly view spring ball?
"I think the guys are really anxious to be out here. They're all on such different levels, which is what a college team is. There's some guys like Craig Krenzel who has one year left and wants to prove that he's an extraordinary leader and so forth and then there's Jay Richardson who redshirted last year that wants to prove he can step up and help the guys on Saturdays and everything in between. So, it's fun to watch the guys grow."
There are a number of things going on at the same time during a football practice. Every player and coach seems to be concentrating on something different in a different part of the field. So, what was the overall focus of the first day of practice for the Bucks? There wasn't really one central theme if that's what you were wondering.
"What was the focus? Depends on what position you play and what you coach," Tressel said. "But we put some base run and pass in. We put some base defense and basic blitz and zone blitz. Special teams wise field goal and field goal block and punt - the most important play in football - those are the things we focused on."
After Tressel's numerous speaking engagements and other public appearances following the national championship run, it felt good for him to finally get back on the field.
"That's right. That's what you do this for," he said. "To be out there and get to raise your voice a little bit and get excited and be in the sunshine and you know, it's a great breath of fresh air. For our coaches and players too. They've been stretched a little bit and asked to, 'Do this and be there and accept this,' and all that stuff and they're excited to be out here just like I am."
Buckeye fans like me who want to see Chris Gamble on the field as much as possible (I think everyone knows he can't play 128 plays every game), rest easy. Tressel says that Gamble will still be a two-way starter.
I think there's no question," Tressel said. "When you've got guys like Chris who can play multiple positions, you should utilize them. Now, Chris probably couldn't have done what he did for 14 games, so we'll have to limit him a little bit here and there. We have some other receivers that can step in and help out. But we need to get the ball in Chris' hands."
Tress has probably been asked 300 times over the last few days about Dustin Fox. I think we can finally put this debate to rest judging by this comment.
"How often do you hear people say, 'If we just had corners.' Well, we have corners," Tressel said. "We didn't want to break in three new starters in that defensive backfield and we think that Dustin and Chris are fine corners. They both did a very good job last year. There's no reason to think they won't be even better this year."
Is Fox emerging as one of the leaders of the team?
"The first thing is that a guy has to want to evolve into leader," Tressel said. "Hopefully he studied the guys that came before him who were excellent leaders so he knows what it takes. And then he's got to figure it out and make sure that what do you as a leader doesn't affect your performance. You still have your job to do. You better cover that deep third whether you're a leader or not. So, it's a new challenge and I'm sure it's exciting for Dustin as well as the 25, or 26 seniors that are really stepping up because we really assign leadership to that group, whether they want it or not. Then there's other people that just emerge as leaders."
Some head coaches have decided to let up on the hitting during spring drills. What's Tressel's take on the danger of spring injuries?
"We discuss the safety issue as a staff, over and over again," he said. "There are certain rules: Three days of shorts, nine days where less than 50 percent of the practice can be contact, three days when more than 50 percent can be full tackling. So, you follow the rules and then you make decisions as to how you might even do less of the contact. And then you just hope you are lucky. (Wisconsin WR) Lee Evans last year, that was just a simple play over the middle. That could happen in a shorts drill. You just hope you're fortunate."
Is there a position on the team that's cloudier than middle linebacker? Not even close. I don't think the current starter is going to be the starter and I'm not sure about the backup either. Tressel doesn't seem sure himself. He still thinks Matt Wilhelm should have redshirted in 1999. OK, so he didn't say that. But you can tell he already misses Matt and doesn't really know who's going to step in for him.
"Matt played so much football here at Ohio State," Tressel said. "I don't know how many games he started, but I bet it was a bunch. He was really a leader for that group. Freddie Pagac is a guy that's been waiting to have an opportunity. Mike D'Andrea is a guy that wants to figure in that picture and has the ability to do so. Those are the two guys that lined up there today. But Mark Snyder's got those linebackers playing multiple positions this spring. You'll see AJ Hawk in the middle some. You'll see Rob Reynolds in the middle some. Although I don't know if Rob will have a lot of contact coming off surgery and so forth. That's what spring is for to find out the best combinations."
Tressel seems very pleased with senior punter BJ Sander. But Michael Jenkins is not going to lose any playing time due to Sander's talents.
"BJ Sander is a better punter than a receiver," Tressel said. "The one good laugh of the day is when he ran a route and the ball kind of turned him upside down and he flopped like a brook trout on the bank. But BJ, I think, will be a great weapon. Tremendous leg, I think he's really grown with what he was doing. In fact, last year it wouldn't have bothered me one bit to have BJ in there punting, but Andy just happened to be in there and doing well and having an extraordinary year. But I think BJ will have a huge year."
With guys like Jenkins, Gamble and Drew Carter coming back, mixed with young talents like Santonio Holmes and Roy Hall, is it safe to say the Bucks are loaded at receiver? You just knew the conservative Tress wasn't going to fall for this one.
"I think it's a bit premature to talk about a couple guys that redshirted that will make you loaded. Now, I like what I've seen from Santonio Holmes and Roy Hall. No question. And we've got some guys coming back who are very explosive. But until I see the young guys a little more, I'm not going to go out on a limb and say we're loaded."