Carpenter ready to fill in

With Robert Reynolds out this week, it's time for sophomore Bobby Carpenter to step in and make his mark at LB, and it sounds like he is ready to go.

Linebacker Bobby Carpenter has been a solid contributor off the bench this season, but Saturday against Iowa, he will make his first career start in place of the suspended Robert Reynolds.

It's not the way Carpenter wanted to crack the lineup, but that doesn't take away from his excitement.

"Any kid that grows up in central Ohio, their dream is to grow up and play for the Buckeyes and start one day," Carpenter said. "That's what I've always wanted to do, and I am getting my chance now, and I'm trying to do the best I can with it. I am definitely excited to start.

"But, I'm sad for Rob also. That stuff happens all the time. If there weren't 30 TV cameras on him, he probably wouldn't have got caught. It's just kind of the things that happen at the bottom of the pile, and it kind of got looked at a little more because it was a quarterback that had to go out of the game, but that's just kind of the nature of the sport. It's a violent sport and when you step inside the lines, you've got to be ready for anything, at anytime."

At the midway point of the regular season, Carpenter has 20 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks. He has obviously been on the field more than the average "backup" and the playing time has built up his confidence.

"Yeah, I think I am a lot more confident now," he said. "I've been working in a lot. I've got to play Sam the past two years, so I'm feeling pretty comfortable."

Carpenter and the rest of his class aren't used to losing. The 17-10 "L" at Wisconsin was the first time they've tasted defeat at OSU and it's something they don't want to get accustomed to, but Carpenter also felt a sense of relief that "The Streak" finally ended.

"This is my first experience having to bounce back at Ohio State and for everyone I came in with," he said. "We were 19-0 until this time, but I think we'll be all right. It's kind of, I guess, almost a relief to get the stress off of everyone, just riding the winning streak. We get to start over – start fresh – and just see what we can do. I think we'll be all right. We're still in the hunt for everything we want to do. We don't control our own destiny anymore, but if we play hard and win the rest of our games, I think everything will work out."

Carpenter was asked how Wisconsin was able to have success against OSU's staunch rushing defense.

"They are a good team running the ball," he said. "They got that drive on us in the first half, but that's really all we gave up all night, more or less. That one drive and then maybe that big play at the end. We got some things corrected after that drive in the first half. But they are a good team. They are a physical team. They are going to come in and run the ball, run the ball, run the ball until we stopped it. You know, we stopped it, but eventually they popped a few here and there and that's what happened."

Carpenter's father, Rob, played in the NFL and began schooling Bobby at a young age. The younger Carpenter still views his father as a coach (Rob was Bobby's head coach at Lancaster High School) and is still picking up good advice from him.

"I have a pretty close relationship with my father, both my brothers and my mother as well," Bobby said. "It's kind of an interesting relationship with my dad because it's kind of a coach-player thing and always has been. He's just always telling me, ‘Keep your head up.' Things coaches would tell you: ‘Stay with it. You'll be all right. Keep working hard and your shot will come.' That's how he was and I've just tried to do that here so far."

Carpenter recognizes that his first start this Saturday is a big deal, but he also knows that it won't be all that different for him. Even though he's been coming off the bench, he's felt like a starter from time to time.

"Well, anytime you start at Ohio State, like I said, it's a big opportunity," Carpenter said. "But, I've played in some key moments before. I played the whole fourth quarter against Wisconsin pretty much, and I played some against N.C. State and Bowling Green and made a few plays here and there. So, I don't really think it's going to be much different. The difference is, I really don't have to sit out since Robert's out, so I'll be ready to go and try and stay healthy all week."

Carpenter likes the pressure that comes with being a starter.

"That's why you play football," he said. "It's exciting. You get the pressure situations being out there when money's on the line and you've got to make a stop, or you don't win the game. It's exciting to do that. I love doing that. Just go out there, hit, play hard, do the best you can. That's what it's all about."

Coming into camp this year, Carpenter knew it was going to be difficult to win a starting job. But that was his goal nonetheless.

"My intent going into camp was just to try and earn a spot," he said. "Maybe see if they'll move Rob inside, or maybe I could play inside. I just wanted to get on the field is basically what it came down to. The coaches told me, ‘Look, if you play well enough to earn a spot, we'll get you in there as much as we can.' And they've tried to get me in there as much as they can. They've moved Rob to middle some; got me some opportunities. I've played a little weak side when A.J. (Hawk) got tired, so right now, I'm just trying to do everything and do as much as I can."

Carpenter said he has learned a lot about football over the last year and a half. More than anything, he has learned to just relax, play hard and have fun.

"I've learned you just have to be ready to go every play," he said. "You can't ever come out flat for a game. And as serious as it is, you just have to treat it as still a game. Last year, I tried to take it too much as ‘big time' and got real serious about it. This year, I'm just trying to go out there and have fun. I'm not a star or anything, so I'm just going to go out there, do my part and do the best I can, and hopefully we'll win the game."

Carpenter played a considerable amount as a true freshman last year – especially on special teams – but he viewed the season as a learning experience more than anything else.

"It's definitely a humbling experience coming to Ohio State where there's great players at every position and knowing that very few players come in and start right away, or get to play significantly right away," he said. "And especially to be on the defense that I was on last year and how great they were, it was definitely a learning experience. I got to learn from some great players, and I'm still learning from Rob right now."

With Carpenter and Hawk at OSU for two more years, things are definitely looking good at the linebacker position. And it just so happens that the two of them are close friends as well.

"Yeah, A.J. and I, we work out a lot together; we watch film together," Carpenter said. "We just kind of bonded I guess after the North-South game last year. We roomed together that whole week. And then here we worked out going into our freshman season, so we knew it was kind of something special coming in and since then, we hang out a lot and give each other pointers and I guess we are pretty good friends."

So, has it been a little frustrating for Carpenter to see his buddy get so much more playing time?

"Not really. He had a situation last year where Cie (Grant) got hurt a few times and he got to step in and play. But, I got the second-most amount of reps on the defense as a freshman – outside of A.J – so I felt that I got to play a lot last year, and I played on special teams as well.

"This year, he's got to start, given that Cie left, and I was behind Robert, and I was just going to try to come in and play whatever I could if he got tired, if he got a little banged up, and contribute to the team in any way I could. I think it's gone really well for both of us, and I am happy that A.J. has played as much and as well as he has."

Ohio State linebacker coach Mark Snyder has said that Carpenter's strength is his blitzing ability. We asked Carpenter what makes him such a good blitzer.

"Every player tries to make their mark somehow and when I get in and I blitz, I just try and get to the quarterback," he said. "I figure that's my way on the field. If I can come in and get some sacks here and there, that will probably be the best way for me to get on the field."

If blitzing is one of his strengths, what are some of his weaknesses?

"You can always get better," Carpenter said. "You can always get faster and stronger. At the beginning of last year, I probably wasn't as physical as I needed to be, but I think that's come along this year. It's just different things throughout the game that I can improve on. Watching a lot of film. Picking up film study and things like that."

The 2002 season began about as well as Carpenter could have hoped as he dropped a Texas Tech kickoff returner deep in his own territory. Instead of downplaying the tackle more than a year later, Carpenter still lights up when asked about it.

"I was very excited about that," he said. "Everything worked out great. My family was there; all my friends were excited for me. It kind of kicked off the season for me and my whole career here, and hopefully I'll be able to improve upon that and get better."

Carpenter's role on special teams has increased this year. He is out there on several of the units.

"I love playing special teams," he said. "It's a way to get on the field and make big plays. Everyone is watching it and it's another way to contribute and make tackles and try to help the team win games."

It is no secret that Ohio State's defense has carried the team for the last year and a half. There is a lot of pressure on the defense each week to play well, because if it doesn't, the Buckeyes will not likely score enough points to win. But Carpenter thinks the offense is going to turn the corner.

"I think our offense has been getting better each week," he said. "They've got some things they've got to deal with, but we've got a great offensive coaching staff and I think they're working it out.

"But defensively, we're going to continue to try and get turnovers and put our offense in the best situation we can. And if we can, maybe get a few scores. I think anytime you put points on the board, it's definitely going to help the offense. And especially a confidence boost for the defense."

Although Carpenter has faith in the offense, he admitted it's frustrating when the Buckeyes are unable to get many points on the board.

"It's tough watching them struggle a little bit here and there, but they've put some drives together when they've had to and they've just made that big play every time when we needed it in the clutch. Just not to have it one time (against Wisconsin), it was kind of a let down, but you can't blame that on the offense. It's a total team thing."

With Iowa on the horizon, is there some unfinished business for the Bucks? They of course won the national championship last year, but had to share the Big Ten crown with the Hawkeyes.

"Yeah, I think there is maybe," Carpenter said. "That's one thing that we always wanted to do. Everyone said how Iowa is probably better than us, until we finally won the national championship. We'll get the opportunity this Saturday and hopefully we'll do the best we can."

Although Reynolds is suspended, he is doing his best to get his understudy prepared for the show.

"Rob came up to me today before practice and said, ‘You better be ready to go.' So, he's been helping me out as much as he can and just working with me, getting me ready to play. He wants to win the game as much as anyone else does," Carpenter said. "Anytime you are a senior at Ohio State, he obviously has some experience advantage that I don't have and he just picks out things from film study and things like that."

Carpenter continued to defend Reynolds' actions against Wisconsin. He knew Reynolds was way out of line, but also thought it was overblown by the media.

"It's a violent game," Carpenter said. "People get bit; kicked; ankles get turned. It goes both ways. None of it gets caught very often. The refs don't see. I don't know if they're not looking for it, but it's hard to see. Given that there are 30-40 different camera angles, that's probably the only way they would have picked it up. It happens at all levels."

Carpenter remembers a few times at Lancaster when he was a marked man and was on the receiving end of some dirty plays.

"Anytime in high school, if you're a big-time player, other teams are going to try and hurt you. That happens, and you expect it, and you kind of even take some pride in it. They are going to try to put you out of the game, and you've just got to do the best you can to stay in."

When things get "chippy," the hardest part as a football player is not retaliating according to Carpenter.

"Well, you know guys, it's hard not to retaliate," he said. "Usually, the only thing you see is some retaliation. I'm sure some things happened with Rob. Defensive guys, you get held all the time. Guys are pulling on you. You get punched a few times here and there. It's hard not to retaliate, and that's what everyone always sees. I think it's the victim of circumstance."


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