What the Ell is Troy Smith doing?

Preparing for multi-dimensional Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson is difficult, and backup QB Troy Smith is doing the job of playing the role of Roberson in practice. Smith discussed that with Dave Biddle as well as the QB situation next year.

Ohio State has one advantage that most teams did not have when preparing for Kansas State this season.

The Buckeyes have someone that can come close to emulating quarterback Ell Roberson in practice.

Redshirt freshman Troy Smith has a long way to go before he's as good as Roberson, but Smith's skills are already polished enough to give OSU's defense a good idea of what they'll be in for at the Fiesta Bowl.

Of course, the Buckeyes have faced numerous good quarterbacks this season. Almost every week we were singing the praises of Cody Pickett, Philip Rivers, Josh Harris, Jeff Smoker, or John Navarre.

But all pale in comparison to Roberson. He not only offers an explosive running threat the Bucks haven't seen (943 yards, 13 TD), but he's very underrated as a passer.

How underrated? Most fans might be surprised to learn that Roberson has thrown for 2,261 yards and 24 TDs, to go along with just 11 interceptions.

Enter Smith.

He's the only player on OSU's roster that can imitate Roberson, without someone saying, "What the Ell is he doing out there?"

Smith, who is running the scout team throughout bowl practice, gave us a sneak peak on exactly what the OSU coaches ask him to do.

"Just as far as sitting me down, they give me a set package of plays that (Roberson) does and I watch the film on him and see his tendencies, some of the things he's likes to do, and I demonstrate them for the defense," Smith said.

The young Buckeye quarterback has noticed a few similarities between he and Roberson.

"Speed," he said. "He's a pretty fast guy. He makes precise cuts on the field. You know, being able to elude people, which I believe I can do also.

"I would also say he has a strong arm and I believe I have a real strong arm."

While watching film, Smith is always picking up pointers. A young quarterback can learn a lot from a senior like Roberson.

"You definitely can," Smith said. "What I like most about him is probably, more than anything, his speed and savvyness. He's really quick and I don't think I'm too far behind him."

Smith enjoys running the scout team.

"Yeah, I don't have a problem with it. Anything to help the team," he said. "And that just goes to show what kind of athlete I am. For them to put their faith in me, as far as running the scout team and getting the defense a great look, that's what you've got to do. Anything they ask that you can do, you do."

Playing against one of the nation's best defenses in practice is obviously great preparation for Smith. But it's also a humbling experience at times.

"I wouldn't say I'm out there making them look bad, or anything like that," he said with a laugh. "We have a tremendous defense as everyone knows. I'm just out there running around, playing to the best of my abilities and so are they."

Some of the defensive players have taken notice of the job Smith is doing in practice, playing the role of Roberson.

"Troy does a tremendous job," cornerback Dustin Fox said. "He is that kind of player. He could probably start for a school that runs that type of offense. He's an athlete and he does a great job."

Safety Nate Salley echoed those comments.

"He's done a great job," he said. "That is very valuable because going into the game you have been going against a guy who is probably just as good as he is all week. He has all the qualities Ell Roberson has in terms of running and throwing. You go against that talent in practice and it helps you prepare for the game at the same time."

But it's not all scout team for Smith. At the end of each practice, the Buckeyes are holding scrimmages called "showtime," composed of the freshmen and sophomore backups.

Smith is treating it like spring practice, or fall camp.

"Yeah, this is big for us because next spring, and when the season rolls around, these are the guys that we're going to be looking at in the huddle – these guys out here during the showtime period," he said. "And getting those nicks and bruises and getting hit like that, it's all well worth it, because when we're in a big game situation and get hit like that, we'll be pretty used to it.

"It's competitive out there. It's competitive," he added.

Although it's pretty clear-cut that, barring injury, Justin Zwick is going to be the starter heading into next season, Smith isn't ready to budge. Even when told that Jim Tressel said that Zwick would probably be the starter "if there were a game tomorrow," Smith had this to say: "I feel it's wide open. Any player that steps up and shows they're willing and ready to play, will play. Obviously, you've seen it here on the defensive side of the ball. Young guys play. So, any player that steps up and is willing and ready to play, is going to play."

As you can see, Smith is confident that his time will come. But when asked what he has to do to "force" Tressel to give him some playing time next year, Smith shrugged his shoulders.

"Coach Tressel has done a great job the two years I've been with him and I'm not trying to force him to do anything," he said. "I just have to stay on top of my game and always work on improving my game. Coach Tressel has done a great job with me in every respect, every which way. Everything that he's told me that I would be able to do and get a chance to do, I have. So, I can't take anything he says for granted. I believe him 100 percent."

One of those things was the opportunity to contribute on special teams. Smith went from being on the hands team early in the year, to being on just about every special unit on the team. Midseason, he was even given an opportunity to return kicks. That was a puzzling move with options like Chris Gamble and Santonio Holmes available, but it said a lot about Smith's running abilities.

"You have to get on the field somehow," Smith said. "Just like when Quinn (Pitcock) flipped me upside down (in a showtime session), I gotta feel it sometime. It's just getting on the field. Coming from high school to college, the game speed is three, four times faster. Everybody's flying down the field faster. Everybody's working a little bit harder. So, getting on the field any possible way I could, I did.

"It's just about helping the team. They're not going to put somebody out there that's not able to run the ball and get good yards and help the team."

As Smith heads into the offseason, there are a lot of things he needs to do to beat out Zwick. No one questions his arm strength, or mobility, but will the decision-making be there? Does he know when to put touch on the ball? When not to? Can he be the quarterback of a team known for its mistake-free, conservative offense?

"For me, one thing I need to work on is reading coverages," Smith said. "Knowing everything down to the T. Getting everything down; knowing it just like I know the back of my hand. The physical aspects are there. Running, throwing, all of that. But I've just got to learn and know everything."

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