Spring Notebook: Plenty Happening On First Day

The first day of spring practice was filled with surprises. Here, we have notes on Ryan Hamby, Louis Irizarry, Santonio Holmes, A.J. Hawk and plenty of other notables from the first day of spring ball.

The action on the indoor practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center took a back seat to the news that longtime assistant coach Bill Conley would be leaving Ohio State after 17 years of service.

But there was, in fact, a full blown spring practice on Thursday -- one of just 15 for the spring and one of just five that will be open, at least in part, to the media.

"I thought there was good electricity and good enthusiasm," said OSU head coach Jim Tressel, beginning his fourth spring with the Buckeyes. "I haven't been around too many first days when there are doldrums. You measure yourself later. But if you don't start well with a lot of enthusiasm, you may not have it later.

"It was fun to watch guys take a new role and step in front of the huddle."

Several Ohio State players met with the media following the first day of spring practice. Here were some of their notable comments as well as more from Tressel:

First up, junior tight end Ryan Hamby was asked about playing without his mentor, Ben Hartsock.

"First day without him, I'm going to have to say I do (miss him) a little bit," Hamby said. "But, it's time to move on and try and take over the role and try and help everybody else out and try and get better. You've just got to be mature and learn from Ben and past players and just be a leader and just be mature and try to lead by example, I guess."

Hamby likes what he saw out of quarterbacks Justin Zwick and Troy Smith.

"Those two are just trying to compete and just trying to win a job," he said. "Everybody's behind each one of them. Whoever gets the job, I'm going to be behind."

The Cincinnati Moeller product is ready to get the pads on and do some hitting.

"Obviously Saturday is hoot 'n holler and everybody looks forward to that," Hamby said. "I think it's just kind of a process. We've got shorts on out here and everyone's just getting back in the flow of things. And then when we put pads on, that's when you find out who can play ball."

Hamby was asked why the team does the hoot 'n holler drill.

"Just to kind of start the first day off of hitting – just to get a little bit of excitement," he said. "Everybody's pumped up for it and has their adrenaline pumping. So, it's just for fun, I think. Just for excitement."

Overall, Hamby likes what he saw from his teammates on the first day.

"I think we look good," he said. "Obviously we're young, but I think we look good and I think we'll be all right."

* Fellow tight end Louis Irizarry was next on the docket. He can't believe spring ball is already here.

"I was just talking to some of the guys and it does seem like just yesterday that we got off the plane (from the Fiesta Bowl)," Irizarry said. "But then when you're out there, you're kind of out of whack. You haven't run routes in a while and stuff like that."

Irizarry knows he is in line to get a lot of playing time this season. He and Hamby will both get plenty of snaps.

"It should be a great opportunity," Irizarry said. "We run a lot of double tight end sets, so it's out there. That's the thing about this year's team: we have a lot of guys at a lot of different positions that can do a lot of things. There is going to be some flexibility."

Overall, the young TE thinks the first day went well.

"It was pretty good," he said. "Everyone was anticipating it. Troy Smith was telling me to relax a little bit because you get tense and it can get a little crazy. But, it was pretty good for the first day."

Why would spring ball make someone tense?

"I guess because you've been lifting for so many months and for a lot of guys this is their year to come out and finally prove themselves, or whatever," Irizarry said. "Everyone is just kind of waiting to measure themselves; get tested out there and play against some of the older guys."

Irizarry was flashing some good quickness out there on Thursday.

"Yeah, I really concentrated on the ladders and all that footwork stuff this year in the offseason to get quicker, and getting my strength up," he said. "So, I was eager to see if I still had the quickness."

He has put on some much-needed muscle.

"I'm 245," he said. "I came in at 230, 225."

Becoming a more physical player is at the top of Irizarry's to-do list.

"I'm looking to put my foot down as far as blocking goes and kind of establish myself and show these coaches, ‘Yeah, you can put me in on blocking plays; you can put me in on pass plays.' They can use me a lot more and that will buy me a lot more playing time. The best man will win, so I'm not worried about that. And we use a lot of guys, rotating in and out, so I think it will be a good situation."

Tressel said he liked what he saw of Irizarry. The youngster had a star-crossed first season at OSU, dropping what appeared to be a sure touchdown catch from Justin Zwick against Northwestern before being suspended late in the season for an off-the-field altercation.

"I think the setback that set Louis back more than anything was when he didn't catch that touchdown pass when he could have," Tressel said. "He is awful hard on himself. I think he thought he let down the outfit. Then, all of a sudden, he has another setback, one you'd rather not have, and you're not progressing at the pace you would like to.

"But I think he will show flashes this spring and continue to flash that ability at times."

* Sophomore receiver Santonio Holmes emerged as a star in the second half of the 2003 season. He is glad to get back out on the field.

"First day was pretty good," Holmes said. "I think everybody's trying to get the kinks out from a long vacation. We had a nice time off. But we're really going to get into the groove and get after it and work hard."

Holmes is just trying to get on the same page as Zwick and Smith.

"They did pretty good for the first day," Holmes said. "I think everybody is just trying to get in the flow, but the quarterbacks looked good today. We're just trying to get our timing down."

Holmes was asked to give some differences between the styles of Zwick and Smith. Who throws the better ball? Who has a quicker release?

"Probably nothing," he replied. "I think both of them are great quarterbacks and they've got to be great quarterbacks for us in the future. It really doesn't matter who throws the better ball. It's all about who will get the job done and that's what coach Tressel is looking for right now."

The Florida native already feels like one of the veterans on the team.

"Right now, I have to be more of a teacher for some of the young receivers," Holmes said. "The coaches look up to me as one of the leaders and that's my main job right now: to teach the younger guys and not try and get ahead of myself and not look at those guys and say, ‘They're freshmen. They've got to learn on their own.' I've got to be more of a leader for those guys."

Despite the loss of Michael Jenkins, the Buckeyes seem to have a deep and talented corps of receivers.

"I think we're pretty good," Holmes said. "Working with (wide receivers coach Darrell) Hazell, he's a new guy and we have to get accustomed to his style of coaching. There's a lot that's going to have to change as far as knowing, learning and talking about what to do and how to run routes, how to read coverages. We're going to have to have a lot more talking sessions with him afterwards with all the guys so we can get on the same page. But, yeah, I think we do have a lot of good receivers that can get the job done."

Holmes has hit it off well with Hazell, an energetic, young coach.

"Yeah, he's a pretty good guy," Holmes said. "He gets after me all the time saying I have to be the leader of the receiving corps and I have to be the one everybody looks up to and make a good impression."

Holmes continued to talk about his newfound leadership role. With Jenkins gone, he is now the go-to receiver, on and off the field.

"Right now, I have to do the same thing that (Jenkins) did last year for me," Holmes said. "He looked out for me and he helped me come a long way. I look at myself as doing the same thing. Me and Roy (Hall) both. We're probably going to be the starters coming into next year and both of us have to be leaders. It's not all going to be on me, but a lot of guys are looking up to me and asking questions and I told them if any questions need to be asked or answered, I'm here for them."

After sitting for much of the first half of the 2003 season, Holmes finally got his chance when Drew Carter went down with a knee injury at Indiana. Needless to say, he seized the opportunity.

"That was something I was waiting for," Holmes said. "I was not waiting for an injury to happen, but I was just waiting for the opportunity. It came and I just took advantage of it like Coach (Tressel) told us to. He said, ‘It's your show now, so you have to get out there and fill in.' And that's what I did."

Holmes finished the year with 32 receptions, 549 yards and seven touchdowns. Not bad for basically half a season.

"I wasn't expecting to do that outstanding," he said. "I was just expecting to fill in the void that we needed in our receiving corps. Obviously, the coaches think I did a pretty good job. A lot of good things can happen when you stay focused all the time and that's what I did. I didn't worry about an injury to Drew, I worried about, ‘What's going to happen to our team now and what can I do to help out?'"

Holmes also stepped up in the Michigan game with a pair of touchdowns. The final result was not a good one for the Bucks, but Holmes proved he could step up in the biggest game of the year.

"It meant a lot to me, playing that well against them," he said. "Knowing that I wasn't starting at the beginning of the game, I kind of sat back in my mind and I started thinking, ‘When I do get an opportunity to get on the field, I have to make the best of it.' And I saw that our team was down a little and I got to the quarterback and I told him, ‘It's our time now to make it happen.' And that's exactly what we did. We got on the same page and started connecting a little bit and we tried to fight to get back in the game and unfortunately things didn't work out."

* Junior linebacker A.J. Hawk led the Buckeyes with 106 tackles last year (52 solo). He admits it was a little bit strange taking the field without former defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio on Thursday.

"It's a little different, of course," Hawk said. "That's all I've known since I've been here is Coach Dantonio as defensive coordinator. But, with Coach (Mark) Snyder here, nothing has really changed. He brings the same intensity to the table and the same defensive schemes. And now Coach (Luke) Fickell is the linebacker coach and I worked with him a lot on special teams last year. So, it's not too different. But, yeah, without Coach Dantonio's presence, it's a little odd."

Hawk knows that the Buckeyes have a lot of holes to fill in 2004, but he's not too worried about it.

"We've got guys we've got to replace – we lost a lot of great players – but as you see here, we recruit good players," he said. "Our coaches do their job and there's always guys coming up through the ranks. So, it's time for a lot of guys – guys like us – to step up and try and see what we can do."

Hawk had minor knee surgery after the season and will be held out of some live contact drills. But how much hitting will he be able to do this spring?

"I wish I knew," he said with a laugh. "I'm lobbying to get to do something. I think I'll be able to hit a little bit, just they won't let me do a ton of stuff like long scrimmages. Just kind of limit the pounding on my knee I guess they say."

Hawk downplayed his knee injury.

"It was nothing in the ligament," he said. "It was just some cartilage that was floating around and some inflammation that was taken out, basically. But the doctors don't want me (to overdo it). They just told me to limit my activity for a little while."

Hawk isn't even sure when he hurt the knee, specifically. It was towards the end of the season and he thinks it was just simple wear and tear from his first full year as a starter.

"I don't know when I hurt it," he said. "That's a good question. I couldn't think of it. It wasn't one thing. It was just a period of time, but I couldn't really remember one single incident that did anything to it."

Hawk is not one to make excuses. His play tailed off a bit towards the end of the last season, but you won't find him pointing to his knee as a reason why.

"Once I got on the field, I felt fine," he said. "It's just like any bumps and bruises you have. Once you get in the game, nothing bothers you. Practices sometimes are difficult, but other than that, I felt 100 percent."

Some players say spring ball is a drag. Not Hawk. He's an old-school gym rat.

"It's fun," he said. "Spring ball is when you can come out and run around and have fun. Guys aren't worried about getting hurt for the games and stuff like that. We just get to run around and hit people. We only have 15 practices, so we want to make the best of it. It's just fun to be out here.

"In high school in Ohio, you don't have spring ball, so it's something a little different for us. Those Florida guys, they play year-round, but this is new for us. It's great to be out here again competing. Just doing things like 7 on 7. Competing against the offense is always fun."

Hawk says he weighs about 240 pounds right now.

"I've gained about two pounds," he said. "I'm just trying to stay where I'm at. I'm not tall enough to gain any more weight."

A reporter asked Hawk if it would bother him if he were held out of all contact drills this spring.

"Yeah, of course," he said. "I play linebacker, so that's what we do. That's part of our everyday practice. And anytime you have to sit and watch your teammates do anything it's tough. They made me watch a little bit of practice at the end of the day today. It's not fun when your buddies are out there having fun and you have to sit and watch."

Entering his third year, this could be a huge season for Hawk. He was asked if making the All-American team was something he has thought about.

"I haven't, no, to tell you the truth," he said. "I think you come into your third year and you're more comfortable and you've been around a couple years and you just kind of figure out what everyone's doing on defense. In two years, I've been through a lot of tough situations and of course a lot of great situations with the records we have and stuff. Guys tend to have breakout years or whatever you say in their third year because they've been around a lot. You're a little bit of a veteran and you feel more comfortable and the game slows down a little bit."

Having a playmaker at middle linebacker this year – Anthony Schlegel – is going to make Hawk's job a lot easier. The Buckeyes could never find a solid MLB in 2003.

"Anthony is a great player," Hawk said. "I've seen a couple game films from him from Air Force and I saw him practice all last year. We knew from day one he could play, so we're not worried about anything at the middle linebacker spot. He's a great guy and a great player and we're glad to have him here."

Hawk also gives John Kerr high grades thus far.

"Of course he had a great year two years ago at Indiana and he's came in here and done well," he said. "Kerr is a really good player. We have so much talent at linebacker and it's going to be a competition all spring and all fall camp, so it's going to be interesting to see what happens."

It is very possible that the Bucks could have the best group of linebackers in the country. Bobby Carpenter is another star-in-the-making.

"I think that would be anyone's goal, to be the best in the nation," Hawk said. "As a whole linebacking corps, I think we're real tight; we're all good friends. So, I think that's a good start. And once we play with each other all spring and all summer I think it will just grow. So, we're excited for the season. We can't wait to get into the games and just have fun."

Hawk is not concerned that OSU is losing three outstanding defensive linemen in Will Smith, Tim Anderson and Darrion Scott.

"I'm not really worried about that," he said. "We lost some great guys from last year. But we have a lot of depth. We have guys who can step up to the job. I think we'll be all right up front."

* One player who did not speak with the media after practice was freshman tailback Antonio Pittman. But as it turns out, Pittman -- who just enrolled at OSU on Monday -- was lucky he made it to practice at all.

"Antonio got on the wrong bus and I think he was dropped of at the veterinary building or something like that," Tressel said, eliciting laughter. "I think he got to a pay phone and got rounded up. But he finally made it here; he was just a little late. I think he was here by the eighth or ninth period."

Also Notable

* Zwick, Smith and freshman quarterback Todd Boeckman all wore black jerseys, denoting no contact -- not that there was much contact at all with the players in helmets, jerseys and shorts.

The players will practice in similar gear Friday before moving into pads on Saturday morning.

* Practice was held inside because the temperature was near 40 with rain sprinkles Thursday afternoon.

* The first defense on the field for team drills at the end of practice was Mike Kudla and Simon Fraser at the ends, Quinn Pitcock and Joel Penton at the tackles, Hawk, Schlegel and Carpenter at the linebacker spots, Nate Salley and Donte Whitner at the safety spots and Ashton Youboty and Harlen Jacobs at the corners.

* During the team session, Smith made a picture perfect 20-yard out pass to senior receiver John Hollins.

Zwick drilled in a pass to Branden Joe in the right flat that was nicked by Whitner. Boeckman also displayed nice zip on his passes.

Receiver Tony Gonzalez went down on a deep route, allowing Youboty to make an easy pick of a Smith pass. Gonzalez was helped off with a hamstring injury.

* The first-team offensive line was Rob Sims at left tackle, Doug Datish at left guard, Nick Mangold at center, Mike Kne at right guard and Tim Schafer at right tackle. The second team was T.J. Downing at left tackle, Andree Tyree at left guard, Steve Winner at center, R.J. Coleman at right guard and John McLaughlin at right tackle.

* We have so much planned we can't even think about doing it all right now. Stay tuned.

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