Every summer conditioning program at every college in America is always reported as the "toughest" ever, and hearing that is as predictable as any cliche in sports. But this time, I'm buying it out of Ohio State, and I think new head coach Luke Fickell already has players thinking about what's coming next when pads come on.
If you go by player's twitter accounts, they are seeing a change in intensity and workload under the first-year head coach. Remember, it wasn't all that long ago that Fickell wore the uniform, and his first lieutenant Mike Vrabel played in the NFL only months ago. Rumor has it, fall camp might be a tad more physical than it was under Jim Tressel.
Speaking of Fickell, it's universally accepted that while the Buckeye players were saddened by the departure of Tressel, they were excited to see Fickell get his shot at the job. The only disappointment sensed were in the linebackers, who were not thrilled to lose Fickell as their position coach. Suffice to say Mike Vrabel is filling that void nicely, even though contact has been limited by NCAA rules. Vrabel appears to be just what the doctor ordered to the returning linebacker group, and that relationship will only grow over time. First impression has been a home run.
This is the "new-look" defensive end Steve Miller, formerly a player who people kept waiting for his frame to fill out. Miller is now a nasty-looking 255-pounds, after playing high school football between 230-240 pounds. All he lacked to make an impact as a true freshman was more size and strength, when he reported in June. He looks to have that problem solved, especially throughout his upper body.
All four of the new freshmen offensive line candidates are in Columbus, and two in particular are standing out, although realistically all will red-shirt this season. Antonio Underwood and Brian Bobek have impressed, although Underwood needs strength, while Bobek needs more size, and both should be where they need to be in a year. Tommy Brown struggled in the spring, which was both predictable and understandable. Chris Carter reported way out of shape, in the 380-pound range, and has a way to go to get in football shape.
This is what the future All-Big Ten cornerback looks like, and Travis Howard is not only one of the best NFL prospects on the Buckeye defense, but also one of the leaders in the weight room and in conditioning. Howard is a testament to what hard work can bring, and he only needs health to shine in 2011. You would think that body wouldn't get hurt, but hurt others.
One of the staples of the Tressel era, and it's alive and well under Fickell, is the way the upper-classmen treat the younger players in the program. You never saw hazing woes at Ohio State under Tressel, and that wasn't by accident. Ryan Shazier will be rooming with Etienne Sabino in fall camp, and the two already have formed a bond, with Sabino in the big-brother role. This is the rule, not the exception at Ohio State, and that shouldn't be changing under Fickell.
What about a little recruiting news? All I can say about the Bam Bradley offer is how happy it made his head coach Moe Douglass, and we also saw the same thing in the summer when Cameron Burrows was offered. The misconception that there was a rift between Douglass and former Buckeye head Coach Jim Tressel was not only highly inaccurate, but personally hurtful to Douglass. When the Ohio coaches honor Tressel the first week of the season by wearing white shirts and ties, it's not known how many coaches will participate. I guarantee you one who does will be Moe Douglass, 90 degrees or not.
Will this young man still be wearing this shirt one year from now, or specifically after National Signing Day in 2012? Brionte Dunn will not only be heading to Brady Hoke's BBQ in Ann Arbor next weekend, but he will also be visiting Penn State unofficially next Wednesday. An official visit to Miami will occur after Spetember 1, as well. Dunn insists he is solid to Ohio State, but these visits being scheduled can't be pleasing to the Buckeye coaching staff.
The one aspect of recruiting that seems so odd is that it is far easier today to list potential offers and commitments for the prospects in the 2013 class, than it is for the players of 2012. Look for things to stay that way until the coaching situation gets clarified after the upcoming season is completed.