The NCAA has cut down on the amount of practices each team can have this year in camp. There are less two-a-days, less practices with live hitting and freshmen don't get a three-day window to adjust before the upperclassmen arrive. But the Buckeyes don't seem too concerned about these changes.
"I don't think it will affect us very much," Stepanovich said. "We still have to come in and get our days of work in when we're allowed to and we just have to get the most out of those days when we get the opportunity to hit the practice field."
Stepanovich said that the upperclassmen have been stressing the importance of working hard every time they hit the practice field, or the weight room.
"We preached that in the spring time and even when we were working out in the summer," he said. "Make sure that every time we get the opportunity to come in here and work together, that we work hard and we get everything done that we need to work on. We're just making sure that everyone knows that climbing the mountain again is going to be a lot harder and a lot rougher and we've got to make sure that we're prepared."
The senior center/guard says that although OSU's players are used to having a bull's-eye on their back, this year will be different.
"I guess you could say that you're used to it, playing here," Stepanovich said. "But last year was last year to us and to get to where we want to be, we have to go undefeated again. So, it's no different than our challenges last year, just more of a bull's-eye. Other teams will place even more of an emphasis on beating us."
Overall, the team seems to be in excellent physical condition, much better than last year. Stepanovich, who has slimmed down a little bit himself, has taken notice.
"Hopefully it will help a lot," he said. "A lot of guys have taken care of their bodies really well. Some guys have put on weight, or lost weight, wherever they need to be. I think that will help us gel a lot better and hopefully it will help prevent injuries later on in the season."
The players wanted to do a lot of "fine-tuning" during the spring and summer months. How early will the team know if it has made the necessary improvements during the offseason?
"I think we'll know after the first scrimmage - just how hard we've worked this summer and how much work we've put in so far," Stepanovich said. "But it's a long preseason, so we won't know anything for sure until after the first game."
The freshmen on last year's team might have been spoiled a little bit by winning a title right way. Did some of the older guys have to tell them to not take anything for granted?
"I think a lot of upperclassmen did," Stepanovich said. "Because a lot of those younger guys, that was their first experience of college football and they think that's just the way things are done: You come in, show up, and you win. But there's a lot of hard work that goes into it and there's a little bit of luck that goes into it too. But everyday you've got to be ready to come in and do your work and let it all hang out. So, that's what we tried to do with our summer workouts: Push everybody to their limits and work as hard as we can."
Stepanovich sure talks like a captain. Is that something he has his sights set on?
"If I got to be captain, that would be great. But I want to win football games; that's what's most important. I just try and let my actions speak for themselves and if I'm picked as a captain, that would mean a lot."
With Nick Mangold's emergence at center, it seems logical that Stepanovich will slide over to guard. Does he have a preference between playing center or guard?
"Not really. I enjoy playing them both. My goal when I got here was to get on the field and that's still my goal every preseason: Make sure I fight for a job and if it's at guard, center, I'll go anywhere. I just want to be on the field and win some games."
The center is arguably the most important position on the O-line because, in addition to snapping the ball, he is the one making the line calls. But Stepanovich is confident that Mangold can be a vocal leader on the line, even though he might be younger than the other guys.
"At times, yeah, I feel a little bit better at center because I'm pretty confident that I know what's going on," Stepanovich said. "But having Nick in there is not really a big deal. He's learning on the run and a lot of times we help each other make the calls up front, so sometimes there's things I don't see. A tackle might help me make the call. So, me moving over a little bit will give Nick some experience making the call himself and even with Robbie there, we communicate real well, so it's not too much of a dip when Nick is in there."
Stepanovich will miss seeing his big buddy Ivan Douglas in the huddle.
"Losing Ivan is a big hit for everybody," he said. "He is one of those guys that relaxed the locker room a little bit, especially during stressful times. He's a funny guy. But also that hurts us depth-wise. He was probably going to start for us and it puts a lot of pressure on Robbie Sims and Mike Kne and T.J. Downing and those guys to really step up because they are going to play a lot this year."
Stepanovich thinks this year's version of the Buckeyes will be more athletic than last year's, but is concerned about replacing some experienced leaders.
"I think when you look at some of the people we lost, the guys going in there might be a little better athletically, maybe a little quicker or stronger than the guys we lost. But I think the biggest thing is the experience we lost with those guys. Especially in the heart of our defense up the middle. That's where it all starts. Four years each safety started, (Matt) Wilhelm started three years, you lose Kenny (Peterson), Dave (Thompson), you know, we lose Ivan now, those are just experienced guys and sometimes experience is more valuable than a lot of athletic ability. It's about knowing how to play the game."