For wide receiver/cornerback Chris Gamble, this marks his first spring working primarily with the defense. He wants to get the basic fundementals down and get as many reps as possible in the secondary.
"Right now, this is where it starts at," Gamble said. "This is where we start over and they just tell us the basics. I just want to be with the defense a lot right now so I can learn all the basics."
Gamble knows it's pretty unlikely that he'll be able to go 120-plus plays in the first few games of the season. Even a guy from southern Florida can be bothered by the heat.
"It's going to be hard because it's going to be hot and I probably can't do both ways like I did last year," Gamble said. "But I am still going to try and do it, but I'm not going to do a lot of plays on offense this spring. Mainly, I'm going to be on defense and probably get a couple in on offense."
The NCAA is getting rid of the two-yard halo rule beginning this season. That was not good news for Gamble.
"Oh, it's going to be scary, but if I think I can catch the ball and make something happen I am going to catch it," he said. "But if I feel like they are right on top of me I am going to have to call a fair catch."
Fair what? I didn't think Gamble knew what such a thing was.
"I'm going to have to probably call for some because they are going to be coming hard with that new rule. I didn't call any with that halo rule."
"He was a good athlete and I feel like if I can do it against him I can play against anybody else," Gamble said. "He was a good athlete; he's a strong receiver and he gave me some pretty good competition and I respect him as a receiver."
Gamble's high school coach told us during mid-season of last year (right after the Penn State game) that no matter how good Gamble got, he would stay all four years at OSU. But is Gamble starting to think about a possible early exit for the NFL?
"I want to stay all four years, I want to get my degree," he said. "I might stay for all four years."
You can always count on tight end Ben Hartsock for some good quotes. He did not disappoint on Thursday.
First up, Hartsock talked about putting behind the national championship and focusing on the future.
"We were still riding pretty high the whole month of January, but once we made that final trip (to the White House) and went through that experience, everybody really closed up shop and that's really when everyone dialed in and was really concentrating on next year. All eyes are forward right now," Hartsock said.
The tight end's take on the first day of spring ball?
"I think it was good," Hartsock said. "I think everybody was anxious to get out there and show what they can do and see how their winter conditioning went. You always feel a little sluggish the first day – you've got a little jello in the legs that you have to work out – but I think overall that practice went really smooth. The organization was there, everybody was working real well together."
You can bet that Hartsock is looking forward to putting the pads on and doing some hitting on Saturday.
"Oh yeah. The whole winter gets long, everybody takes a heavy course load and everybody kind of gets the winter blues and now is the chance to knock the cobwebs out and everybody's really anxious. There's a lot of pride when we put the pads on and do the ‘Hoot n' Holler' drill. To get beat in that in spring, you've got a long summer to get another chance to do it."
There is usually a let down after a team wins a championship, but can Ohio State take its game to the next level in 2003?
"Well, we're going to have to," Hartsock said. "As we approach this year, everybody talks about, ‘Are you going to get complacent after winning a national championship?' Well, offensively, we didn't put up national championship-type numbers last year. We've looked at that quite a bit. We weren't the offense we needed to be and we've got a huge challenge on our hands because we are going to be expected this year, as the senior group of the team, to put points on the board and take some of the pressure off the defense that really carried us last year."
What does Hartsock expect to get out of these 15 practices?
"As an offense, we've got to learn to become more dominant," he said. "There were flashes of greatness last year. There were trends when our offense was unstoppable. We could run the ball no matter what they threw at us, or we could pass the ball no matter what blitzes, no matter what kind of coverages they threw over us. We've got to become dominant all the time if we want to be ensured of finishing games like we want to."
Hartsock's reaction to Stan White playing tight end and linebacker?
"I think he's seen Chris Gamble and wants a little taste of that action."
Dustin Fox looks like he will definitely be staying at cornerback this year. That might surprise some fans, but Fox is happy with the decision.
"I really don't care where I play, but I guess it's nice to stay at corner because moving would be like taking two steps back," Fox said. "I guess it kind of depends on how some of the other guys do and things like that, but I'm really comfortable where I'm at right now."
About mid-season of last year, Fox really started to feel comfortable out on the island. An injury held him back a little bit towards the end of the year, but corner finally felt like his home.
"The coaches put me there last year and you get comfortable playing something," Fox said. "If I went back to safety it would be kind of like starting over again. Then I'd be a sophomore again, as opposed to a junior playing cornerback. I feel comfortable playing corner right now, but whatever the coaches feel like they want me to do, I'm up for anything."
As a returning starter, is Fox ready to emerge as a team leader?
"I think so," he said. "I've been here and took some lumps and now it's my time to be a leader. I'm a junior now. I remember when I came in, Donnie (Nickey) and Mike (Doss) were juniors and I looked up to them, so I might be the same way for some of these younger guys. Overall, we lost a lot of good seniors on the defense and we have to have people step up and take on those roles."
What does Fox think about the DBs in general?
"Our secondary looks solid. We obviously lost Donnie and Mike, which is huge, but Will (Allen) has been a starter I think, even though he wasn't technically a starter, he's pretty much a returning starter and Chris Gamble has obviously started and Tyler Everett is coming on and is going to be a really good player for us. We have so much DB depth right now. The big key is that everybody needs to learn the defense and everything else will come along. All of these guys are such great athletes, there's definitely no lack of athletic ability back there."
Fox was named honorable mention All-Big Ten last year at corner. Did he ever think something like that was possible? He was an All-American safety coming out of high school.
"I had no clue that would happen," Fox said. "I was just hoping to get some PT and by my junior year take over for Donnie or Mike and those guys and just take it from there. But obviously things change and you just roll with it. It was nice to get recognized last year."
What are the goals for the DBs this spring and for Fox personally?
"Probably the biggest goal for us as a secondary is just to get some camaraderie and just get our secondary in place," Fox said. "After losing two seniors, we kind of have to fill those shoes and get our secondary solid for fall camp. Secondly, for myself, I'm just trying to get better and trying to work on some more technique things. Obviously last year I learned the defense and now I'm kind of playing off that and just trying to get better at the small things that it takes to play the position. I think as a whole our defense is going to use this spring to get better and feed off of what we did last year and go into fall camp ready."
How many times has Fox watched the replay of the Fiesta Bowl?
"After the game I watched it a bunch, but not really since then. But I definitely watched it a few times."
"Schlegel I didn't really see too much on the field, but he is going to be an asset for the program. Donte is a great athlete. He's a young kid, a good kid and he's going to be a good player for us here. We don't know how long it's going to take him. It might be this year, it might be next year, who knows. But definitely he's a real good athlete and I think he'll come around," Fox said.
Fox seems to think that Will Allen is in for a huge year.
"Will is such a good kid, man. He's a big time competitor, big hitter. You obviously saw that in the Fiesta Bowl. But Will's just a guy that doesn't make mistakes. He's a guy you can rely on. He's obviously a guy I'm going to rely on this year."
Fox says he likes spring practice because it's a time to get better.
"Spring ball is actually pretty fun at times," he said. "It's not that big of a drag. You don't practice everyday. You get to work on some of the things you don't have a chance to work on during the season like technique things and the little things."
Like the rest of the players, Fox is ready for a little live contact on Saturday.
"Anytime you get to hit, it's fun," he said. "You have to get the cobwebs out of the way, but after that, it's OK."
The cornerback talked about the feud between the offense and defense during the spring.
"When we play against our offense during the spring, it's almost like playing against another team," Fox said. "It keeps us competitive in a time where we're not playing football games. I mean, our defense goes hard. We take on our offense like they are Michigan."
Finally, Fox was asked to describe Mark Dantonio's complicated defense. We know the Bucks like to attack and be aggressive, but Fox gave us a player's point of view.
"It's a technique sound, fundamentally sound defense. We base all of our principles off fundamentals: tackling, playing the deep ball, flying to the ball and things like that. Just maybe some of the things we do, other teams don't do. He's a mastermind when it comes to mixing things up and he gets us ready to go, I know that much."