OSU running backs coach Tim Spencer is a realist. In fact, Spencer realizes that window of opportunity for star tailback Maurice Clarett to play in the Aug. 30 season opener against Washington is closing fast.
"I think as each day goes by it lessens that chance," Spencer told reporters Tuesday. "We certainly hope to have everybody, but we're preparing without him."
Clarett is being held out of practice by OSU as the school and NCAA investigate both his academic and amateur standing.
Sources indicated there would likely be no announcement regarding Clarett by the NCAA or OSU in the next day or so.
"I have not heard anything," Spencer said. "I've been out there coaching football with whoever shows up."
Spencer was asked how he would handle it if Clarett were reinstated.
"It's the best guy plays," Spencer said. "There are no politics in that. If you haven't been in camp however many days, it's hard to be the best guy because the other guys have put in the time."
The coach and former OSU star discussed how this situation has worn on Clarett.
"I talk with him every day," Spencer said. "We talk about football. We talk about everything.
"No doubt it's hard on him. Any time you get something taken away from you that you want to do it isn't easy.
"I told him that the only thing my son understands is when I take his car away. Then I get my results."
Reporters quizzed Spencer on how much time Clarett would need to get ready to play in a game.
"You need to be out there with the guys and get the timing down," Spencer said. "He is smart enough to pick things up pretty quickly. But he's not in football shape. There is no substitute for reps."
Spencer said he is hoping -- obviously -- to a quick resolution.
"I hope, obviously, we can get all parts of our team back," he said. "We see it almost as an injury. You have to move on and work with what you've got. The guys have been working hard when they've been healthy.
"We're prepared to go without No. 13."
But even going on without Clarett has proven to be an issue. Backup tailbacks Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall have each missed time in camp due to injuries. Ross was sidelined with a pulled quadriceps muscle, while Hall battled a sore knee.
Then, making matters worse, starting fullback Branden Joe tore a pectoral muscle "maxing out" in the weight room in late July. His backup, Brandon Schnittker, has also been slowed by a hamstring problem.
"It seems like the minute we've gotten somebody back going again somebody else gets hurt," Spencer said. "It's been one thing after another."
Schnittker is expected to be ready to go for the season opener. But if he can't, the Buckeyes may have to look toward their tight ends for help.
"Branden (Joe) hurt his pec and then the other Brandon (Schnittker) got hurt. We've had some tailbacks playing fullback and the next step is to move a tight end in there.
"But tight ends and fullbacks are two different animals."
Ross added 15 pounds of muscle to be ready for the 2003 season.
"I was fine with the weight he was at, but he has gotten a lot stronger," Spencer said. "In fact, they may have factored in his injury. Maybe he didn't stretch like he should have and he pulled his quad muscle.
"He is about 227 right now. I'd like to see him play around 223 or 225."
Spencer is hopeful Ross will be full-go for the opener.
"I feel pretty confident he will be ready," he said. "He's definitely in the 90 percent range."
True freshman Ira Guilford has been carrying a lot of the load at tailback. He logged 12 carries for 35 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's jersey scrimmage.
"With Ira wearing that No. 5, he reminds me of Michael Wiley," Spencer said. "He has that stature. He only goes a buck-80 and some change, but he can run fast."