Sophomores Justin Zwick and Troy Smith and freshman Todd Boeckman are getting the lion's share of the work at quarterback this spring as OSU coach Jim Tressel and his staff search for a replacement for outgoing starter Craig Krenzel. Zwick was listed as the starter to open spring ball, but holding on to the job through the end of the month will be another matter.
"It's fun to get back out there and get started," Zwick said. "We've been working hard in the off-season and getting ready for spring ball. It's just nice to get out here. We've got a lot of young guys who haven't had a lot of experience. We want to get them out here and get them some reps and just get better every day. That's our main goal."
After spending their first two seasons behind Krenzel and his backup, Scott McMullen, Zwick and Smith have moved to the front of the line.
"It was a little weird not having those two around in meetings and whatnot," Zwick said. "But, you know, they've moved on to bigger and better things and it's our time to come up and lead the team."
Smith added, "It's crazy because you can't look around for Craig or Scott any more for the wisdom. Now it's Justin and Troy and Todd Boeckman, Santonio Holmes and Roy Hall, these are the new leaders now.
"With Craig, he just had the uncanny ability to keep studying. I was fortunate to have him as a roommate when I first got here. He always told me and stressed to me the importance of studying the playbook and knowing all the plays. As you could see, Scott was a gamer. You could throw Scott in there any time and he was ready."
Zwick also talked about what he gleaned from watching Krenzel and McMullen lead OSU to a combined 25 wins over the last two seasons.
"I think from Craig I learned how to handle things when things don't go well," he said. "In practice, you have to have a certain demeanor. Before games, you could see how they stayed relaxed and what they did. Watching them gives you an idea of what you need to do to be prepared to play."
Zwick said he isn't getting caught up in who's starting and who's the backup.
"You don't even worry about that stuff," he said. "I just try and come out here every day and work on my game. I just try to come out every day and learn what they're trying to teach us. I just try and do that every day and get better every day with what they want me to do. That's all I can worry about."
Zwick was a four-year starter in high school, splitting his prep career between Orrville and Massillon Washington. He believes he is making the transition to the college game.
"When you come into college, it's a lot faster and everybody is bigger and stronger," he said. "You just have to adjust a little bit. Being here a couple of years, I've had a chance to get in the weight room and get bigger and stronger. Being under Craig and Scott, I've learned from them and also from being in the film room with the coaches."
Zwick and Smith have an explosive group of receivers to throw to with Holmes and Hall, among others.
"We've got a bunch of guys who can catch the ball and run with it," he said. "It's exciting. We've got a lot of young guys who can do the same thing. It's a lot of fun to get these guys out here and show what they can do."
Smith has been somewhat of a nomad during his time at OSU. He has repped at several positions and worked extensively with the scout team. Last year, he even took a turn returning kicks.
"Everything happens for a reason," Smith said. "I was placed in those positions for a reason, to better myself. I loved it. I enjoyed returning kicks. I got a letterman jacket. Obviously, this staff respects me in different ways. I was thankful for the opportunity to be on the field. When we won the Fiesta Bowl last year, that was a big plus. It's one of the big four bowls, and now I've participated in it."
Smith was asked whether he was upset by Tressel naming Zwick as the early number one at quarterback.
"No, that's motivation," said Smith, a product of Cleveland Glenville High School. "Any time you start to think harmful things and negative things … I mean, anybody in that kind of position could probably think of 25 negative things and not one positive. It's hard not to do that. But where I'm from, it was bred in me to always be humble and always be positive about everything."
But he does admit there is a chance he may have to fill the backup role.
"I'm not going to sit and cry over spoiled milk," Smith said. "In any way, shape or form I can help the team, I will."
Smith talked about making the transition from a reserve to competing for a starting spot.
"Learning the playbook is number one," he said. "That's 90 percent of the battle. If you know the playbook, you'll know where guys are supposed to be. You'll know where guys are going to be.
"It really dawned on me and I was sitting back watching Craig and Scott and I realized those guys aren't going to be here next year. It was probably around the Michigan game and I realized I've got to get everything down."
There are worse things Smith could have done than working with the scout team to get ready for this competition.
"The two years I've been here, we've had a top-five defense," said Smith, who drew praise for his work in imitating Kansas State‘s Ell Roberson to prepare the defense before the Fiesta Bowl win. "Going up against those kind of guys can do nothing but help you."
And, for the last time, Smith said there are no ill feelings between he and Zwick.
"It's not a battle," he said. "As far as Justin and I go, it's a process for us to try and make ourselves better. It's not a battle in any way, shape or form. We don't look at it like that. We're both here for the same thing. Just to end everything, it's not a battle. We just want to better ourselves."
A reporter then added, "May the best man win."
Smith smiled and replied, "Sure."