Ohio State defensive line coach Jim Heacock has a wealth of talent to work with, but even the D-line had some improvements to make in camp. The coach wanted to see his group brush up on the fundamentals more than anything else.
"We've had a real good camp," Heacock said. "The guys on the defensive line buckled down and worked on their fundamentals. I feel really good with where we're at right now. Our veteran guys had a good camp like you would expect and some of the young guys really came on. If we can be fundamentally sound, we have a lot to be excited about up front."
Heacock had a few goals at the start of camp. One was to get a solid corps of backup D-linemen ready to play.
"What we needed to have happen was our backup guys to become closer to our starters in terms of production," Heacock said. "We knew what to expect out of our starters - they've played a lot of football for us - but this camp we really needed our backups to step up and prove they can be counted on and I think that's what happened. I think the way they've progressed has been a pleasant surprise."
Which of the backups stood out the most?
"Probably Marcus Green would be the No. 1 guy," Heacock said. "He's changed his body, he's changed his physical-being unbelievably to where he's going to get some opportunities. He's really a good backup right now."
Also making a strong impression this camp was redshirt freshman DE Joel Penton.
"He's a Tim Anderson clone," Heacock said. "He goes hard every single down. He's worked himself into being a good player. He's a hard worker that does everything right. He's very intelligent. He never makes a mistake. He's that type of a guy. He's just worked himself so hard that he's become a player all of a sudden. Now all of a sudden he's making plays and he just keeps getting better and better and he will continue to improve because of his work ethic."
The Bucks will face one of the top offenses in the country in Washington and Heacock knows the onus is on OSU's defensive line to be disruptive and make plays.
"They know they have their work cut out for them Saturday, but they're excited to get out there, stop the run and try and get some pressure on the quarterback," he said. "It starts with our guys up front. If they do their jobs, everything else should fall into place for our defense."
Heacock preaches the importance of using a rotation on the D-line to stay fresh. Against the Huskies, at least eight Buckeye linemen will get playing time.
"We'll probably go with some form of an 8-man rotation," Heacock said. "Obviously, not everyone in the rotation will play an equal amount, but we want to roll guys in and out. A lot varies depending on their offense and what they're doing. You know, how many plays we're on the field per series and how many plays guys are getting. But we feel confident that we've got eight guys that we can run through and try and keep fresh."
Heacock has spent a considerable amount of time watching film on the Huskies, but hasn't picked up any weaknesses on their offensive line. At least, he wasn't ready to divulge his secrets to us.
"Haven't seen any weaknesses," Heacock said. "I think their offensive line is a lot like our offensive line. Last year, they rotated a lot of guys through, so right now they are a very experienced offensive line. They've got a ton of depth, so they're probably going to roll through as much as we roll through. They've got a lot of players that have played and have experience in big games. They're a physical group. They're an outstanding offensive line. You hear about the skill players they have, but when you're down in the trenches you look at those guys and from what I've seen they're a very good offensive line."
Ohio State defensive tackle Darrion Scott has been banged up all camp. He is coming off shoulder surgery and also has a nagging groin injury. However, Heacock says Scott is ready to go for the opener.
"I think he's had a good week," he said. "He's ready to come on. I think he's ready to get out there and make some plays."
What bothers Scott the most? The shoulder, or groin?
"It's both," Heacock said. "It depends on that particular day which one hurts more. But he's the type of guy that you know will be ready come game time. He had a good week this week, so I feel real good about Darrion right now. We'll see how he does, but we're going to start him and let him go."
"I'd say the last week or so, Lydell has gotten to where he's 100 percent and he's actually running the ball pretty well," Spencer said. "Mo Hall is also fine health-wise. I think as a running back, you're always going to have something that's never right. I'm sure both of those guys do, but I think they'll be fine. Like I've said before, those guys always seem to get well towards game time."
Spencer is a demanding coach and was more than pleased with the hard work Ross put in during the offseason.
"Physically, obviously Lydell worked his butt off this spring and summer and I was excited to see him out there (in camp) and then he had the quad pull and that really slowed him down," Spencer said. "But now, I'm starting to see what I thought I was going to see earlier on - which is burst, speed and quickness. He also knows his plays a lot more and that's probably been his biggest issue in terms of getting a feel for what he's supposed to do and everybody around him."
Last year, Spencer had to get on Ross for "dancing" a little too much. He wants to see him hit the hole with authority.
"Absolutely," Spencer said. "I think for a guy that's 225 pounds, he needs to get up field. When you're dancing around, there's some fast guys closing in on you. That's one of the things we consistently talk about."
Spencer was asked who would likely start the game at tailback and gave a somewhat surprising answer.
"Right now, I think Mo Hall has been the guy that's been consistently in there and been doing things, so I'm pretty sure he'll be the guy that will go in first," he said. "So, Mo will probably get the start, but they are both going to get plays. They are both going to play and I can't sit here and say who will play the most, but we'll just play it by ear as we get in the game."
If one of the backs gets hot, expect Spencer to ride him.
"I think if a guy is running well and he's doing what he's supposed to do, let's go with him," he said. "Certainly we don't want to wear anybody out, but it's a feel thing. I think if a guy's going pretty good, then we'll go with him. If a guy is hot, let's see how far he can take us."
Spencer says that Ross and Hall are out to prove that there is not much of a drop off compared to Maurice Clarett.
"I sensed that today at practice from them," Spencer said. "We practiced inside, there's no air in here and it's very hot. But I saw those kids step it up a little bit. I think I saw the light come on - not that I haven't seen it in these past practices - but I saw some intensity today from those guys. Some guys, when it gets hot and it's Thursday, they tend to back off a little bit. I didn't see that today. Those guys seem like they have something to prove and today they really had that fire we always want to see out of them."
Spencer talked about the differences in the two backs.
"Mo Hall doesn't have quite the wiggle that Lydell has - Lydell has a lot of wiggle to make people miss," he said. "Obviously Mo is a little faster than Lydell, so we are going to try and use his speed and see how it goes."
Spencer knows what it's like to be in the spotlight at tailback and says his guys are ready to show what they can do on a national stage.
"Let's face it, this is where they want to be," he said. "This is the big time. Playing at night, national tube, nationally ranked team. You've got a chance to be the guy and do the things that you've come here to do. It doesn't get any better than this for a running back."
Linebacker Jason Bond has been getting some snaps at fullback and Spencer says it's more that just an experiment. He says Bond has been impressive and it's to the point where he will definitely get some playing time in the backfield on Saturday.
"I can't tell you how many plays he'll get, but he will get in the game," Spencer said. "I feel real good about what he's been able to pick up. He's been able to use a lot of what he's learned on defense and apply that to the fullback spot. He's really fit in pretty good. Heck, he already knows our plays. He hears them everyday."
It's been well documented that OSU's offensive line is in excellent physical shape. No one is happier about that than the running backs and their coach (with the possible exception of Craig Krenzel).
"I think our offensive line has done a good job this fall and I think those guys want to prove they are a good line," Spencer said. "I think our running backs just should just be getting behind those guys and whatever they get, they need to take advantage of. Those guys should be able to create some big holes."
Just how much better is OSU's offensive line now, compared to last year at this time?
"I think we're light years ahead," Spencer said. "I think the guys feel good about what they know. They've worked together for at least a year and we've had some guys that have lost a lot of weight. We've lost over 150 pounds throughout the whole line. I feel really good about those guys because one thing they can do is run. They can really run. They've got good feet. They're down to where they should be weight-wise and I think as a running back, you've got to be excited about what you see."