But the coach noted that Clarett, currently awaiting word on investigations by his school and the NCAA, will need to be cleared soon if he expects to play against the Huskies.
"I would think that everyone who is going to play significantly in a ballgame like that has to be prepared physically," Tressel said after OSU's jersey scrimmage at Ohio Stadium. "That's why you have preseason, to get guys ready so that when they go out there healthwise it's the best thing for them. I get nervous about a lot of the guys who maybe haven't had as much work as we like."
Clarett appeared at the scrimmage, hugging teammates and spending time on the sideline with former OSU running back Joe Montgomery. He remains sidelined as a 10-person university committee looks into allegations of preferential treatment for Clarett and other athletes in the classroom. The NCAA is investigating an exaggerated police report that Clarett gave to campus police after his car was broken into in April.
Although he is banned from all team activities, Clarett has been conditioning on his own. But NCAA rules require athletes to go through four days of non-contact practice before participating in contact drills or games. That means that if Clarett is not cleared before the start of practice on Aug. 26, he would not be eligible to play against Washington.
Even if he was cleared by midweek – and there was no indication that the school or the NCAA were inclined to move that fast – Tressel noted that it would be hard for Clarett to be full-go for the opener.
"It would be real hard. Real hard," he said. "Football is football. Running and lifting is the closest thing we can get to it, but it's not football. It's hard to play in an opening game without participating in camp."
Tressel was asked if Clarett could face team or university sanctions, even if he was cleared by the NCAA.
"That's not something we have sat and talked about," Tressel said. "I think that the procedure we have taken, in most situations, whether it's this one or any other, is you find out the things you have no control over, and then you sit down and react from there.
"I guess the answer to that is it could be, but it hasn't been discussed."
Tressel did say Clarett's continued presence at team practices and the scrimmage are positive. "The messages are individual," he said. "There may be some people who feel for him and see how anxious he is to be a part of the group. There may be others who are so involved in what they're doing that they don't know he is around.
"I think it's an indication he wants to be a part of this group."
Clarett's absence is exacerbated by injuries to key backups Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall, leaving true freshman Ira Guilford as the only scholarship tailback who is completely healthy.
"I don't feel good about it, but there's nothing I can do about it," Tressel said. "We're working with what we've got and doing what we can do with the people we've got."
Clarett's teammates, speaking after the scrimmage, stood behind their missing teammate.
"I've spoken with him on a number of occasions," said quarterback Craig Krenzel. "I consider Maurice to be a very good friend. I sympathize for what he is going through right now. "More than that, I think he sympathizes for what we're going through right now – what he has put us through. I don't know what's going on with the situation and I have not spoken with him about the specific allegations. I've spoken to him time to time on his absence from camp and how he's dealing with it and how he's getting prepared and the things he's doing so when and if they say he can play he'll be sharp enough to contribute to the team. That's his number one focus right now.
"He's a kid … he looked at me today and he was kind of frustrated and upset. He wants to be out there on the field."
Hall said it is difficult playing the waiting game on whether Clarett will be available.
"Regardless of whether (Clarett) is here or not, they're always going to depend on the running backs - whoever it is - to carry the load," Hall said. "So, if he's here, they're going to depend on us although maybe not as much. If he's not here then, they'll depend on us a little more. We've got to be prepared for that -- and we are."