Ohio State defensive lineman Michael Bennett proved again at the Chicago Hilton in July he is one of the most interesting, well-rounded members of the 2014 football team as he represented the Buckeyes at the annual Big Ten Football Media Days.
Players are practically held hostage for two hours on day two of the event, given nothing but a table and maybe a cup of water or coffee to protect them from Midwest media who want to know everything about them, the prospects for their team this fall and more.
Bennett made the best of it, offering a series of interesting answers on a variety of topics, from defensive line play to player compensation. He talked about having a current Ohio State assistant who played his current position and even touched on his reaction to learning he would not be playing for Jim Tressel back when he was finishing up his time at Centerville High School.
BuckeyeSports.com sat in for more than 30 minutes of Bennett's two hours of media availability on day two in Chicago and thought we would share the highlights with readers after a variety of reporters peppered him with questions.
On changes to the Ohio State defense's mindset after a poor finish to last season and the hiring of Chris Ash and Larry Johnson as assistants:
"I think it's just we've learned from our mistakes. Chris Ash came in and he's really got a more aggressive defense going. Coach Johnson comes in and is more about togetherness and brotherhood and no cursing, no negativity. And then Coach Fickell changed his viewpoint and he said, 'I'm not gonna blame anybody anymore. It's gonna be the defense, and the defense is together. I know the whole 'nine units thing,' but the defense is one unit.' So it's just all the coaches, and coach Coombs has been on board with that through the whole thing...
"All the defensive coaches have said we're not fighting each other anymore. If there is a run up the middle, the linebackers aren't going to run up to the d-line and cuss them out. They're gonna take it on themselves and the d-line is gonna take it on themselves and the safeties are gonna take it on themselves for not filling. It's everybody's fault when a play breaks down."
On communication problems last year for the defense:
"That happened a couple times because teams have really started adopting the fast-paced offense, so when everyone is trying to look over to the sidelines to get the call, we've got dummy calls going and someone's going to look at the wrong person or someone's not going to get the whole call, and if I'm running over to my d-line and telling them what the call is in a packed stadium three seconds before the ball is snapped, it just gets lost in translation and then we're just putting our hands on the ground and trying to figure out what's going on. And then the back end isn't on key with us and our stunts, it's just gonna fall apart."
"I think all four of us are NFL-caliber athletes. I think you'll see maybe Joey will be the last one to go to the NFL because he's the youngest but all four of us can go to the NFL. I keep trying to tell people about Adolphus. Adolphus is a better athlete than me so he's going to have a really good season."
"Noah has very loose hips, extremely fast, very instinctual player. He just has to get better at following the defense and playing within it. A lot of guys who are that instinctual start doing their own stuff. Ryan (Shazier) did that and nobody knows because it works but every now and then it kind of catches you because the offense will see that and do something else.
"Joey, freak athlete, very strong. He's smooth. You don't see him as the quickest guy in the world, but he gets there a lot faster than you think he does. I'm still trying to figure that out. He's smooth, long and very smart. He learns very quickly. Through the course of a game he finds out what he needs to use to beat you. He's got a good head on his shoulders.
"Adolphus is a 300-pound guy who moves like a d-end. He's also long armed and can get on top of anybody. He was a No. 1 basketball player in his league, so he's quick."
Bennett on himself:
"Short but quick, aggressive. Nasty attitude, and then I also learn pretty quickly so if you beat me one play I'm gonna figure out why that worked for you and make sure it doesn't happen again. I feel like i react pretty quickly."
On Spence and the team dealing with his three-game suspension from the Big Ten that started with the Orange Bowl and will continue with the first two games of this season after the Big Ten ruled he violated its banned substance policy:
"We're not berating him about it. He's our teammate. We love him. He got into a bad situation. It sucks for him because he loves the game of football, but he'll be ready when his suspension is up."
"It's just that's why you've got to be so careful. Bad situations come up and you just have to distance yourself from anybody who's gonna try to hold you back from what you're trying to do, especially if you have goals like we do. We're trying to take it to a whole different dimension in two or three years, so you've got to distance yourself from anybody who might come between you and it."
On the type of season he expects from Washington:
"Everyone who asks about Adolphus I always tell I think he's going to have a ridiculous first half of the season until people find out who he is. Because they know about me on the interior and they're gonna try and double-team me and shut me down and Adolphus is gonna rip them apart. He might be mad that I'm giving out his secret now, but I think it's a hard decision figuring out who you're gonna block on that interior line because Adolphus is a weapon and he's gonna show it this year."
When asked about whether or not college athletes should be paid, he turned the overly simplistic nature of the question into an interesting answer that took in more of the overall situation for players who receive compensation in the form of scholarships but not a salary:
"That's a funny question because it's kind of like me asking if you think you deserve a bonus. Obviously every college athlete is gonna want more money. I don't know if we need more money. I think that's worth more investigation on how we spend our money, what kind of money we're getting, how much cost of living is and all that stuff and what we base our stipends on. But I think it's kind of hard to say, 'They need more money,' because then you have to say, 'Well, for what?' That's when you start getting into details and stuff. Yeah, I would like more money, who wouldn't?"
Regarding the stipend players currently receive if they live off campus:
"That's based on on-campus living, so whatever the cost of on-campus living is is what we get for off campus. That used to work out well because on-campus was more expensive than off-campus, but now it's fluctuated and they're dropping room and board and raising rent off campus so now if you want to move off you've got to budget. It's hard to budget, especially when some guys are trying to gain weight. I spent $600 on food in June and that's a full check. Guys are trying to gain weight and running low on money, so you're just kind of paycheck to paycheck. That's life, though. You've got to learn to not go do the fun stuff every time. You've got to learn to live within your means."
"We've had a lot of guest speakers talk to us about budgeting, but you're always going to have guys who aren't going to pay too much attention to that. I guess you could say it's they're own fault. The coaching staff and the university tried to give us the opportunities to manage our money and learn how to budget, but you're never going to convince a college kid you don't get to do fun stuff. You have to sit in your house."
Thoughts on knowing a lot of the money the football program generates goes to fund the rest of the athletics department:
"As the Ohio State football program, we're bringing in most of the money for Ohio State, so you understand that a lot of these other sports, there's not much revenue for, if any. They're being funded by the football team, which it's pretty cool to know that we can have so many sports at Ohio State and so many people can get an opportunity for at least a partial scholarship to do what they love at Ohio State, so it's exciting but then there are times when you're like, 'Well, why is that sport here when we could get more for football?' But then you just kind of smack yourself in the head because that's selfish. I think it's cool because we have a ton of sports at Ohio State, and it's a lot because of the basketball program and the football program." (Then it was pointed out a lot of people who write about this topic don't care about that at all.)
"As much as you'd be like, 'Well, we should get all the money,' what are we going to do with all that money? I don't need $30,000 for a room, for rent. If someone else can come and do what they love at the university that I love, then more power to 'em. I'd love to help them."
On the difference between playing nose guard and 3-technique (the other interior spot on the line):
"There's actually a lot of difference because of the point of attack. You're hitting the center and the guard's back further so you're coming in contact with the center and the guard has a full second to build up speed to hit you while a 3-technique you can just fly off and ram into the guard and the tackle is going to hit you at the same time. It's just a whole different -- they're kind of different blocking schemes. There's a back block by the center and the guard kind of whips around. But I'd say for the most part we're trying to make it very similar because we're just trying to get off the ball. If we just try to get off the ball and attack them then it shouldn't be any different because we should both be in the backfield."
Lastly, I brought up that the first time I talked to him, it was at the OHSAA state track meet in June 2011, just days after Jim Tressel was fired. Bennett was a senior competing in the event and had an even-keeled reaction to the situation, saying he supported Tressel and believed he had good motives even if he had broken any rules. Bennett has since proven to have grown-up takes on a lot of subjects, so I asked where that maturity comes from:
"You could call it maturity, I just call it not caring that much about a lot of stuff. There are so many things in life that don't have that big of a bearing and you can't do anything about it, and it's such a waste of energy to try to fix it, so if you ask any of my family members, I'm the last person who's going to waste energy. If something has got to be done, I'm gonna do it. I'm not going to do anything extraneous, just do what needs to be done. So when it comes to that situation, especially with Coach Tress, it sucked, I wanted to play for Coach Tressel, but you can't do anything about it, so just make the best of it. There are so many situations where we get so upset about stuff that really doesn't matter, so you just keep going."
Whether Bennett knew it or not, he was more or less describing Tressel's approach to life, too. Fortunately for the media, however, Bennett has not been "Tresselized" when it comes to interviews, and we hope he will continue sharing his perspective throughout his final season in scarlet and gray.