Assistant head coach/defensive line coach Jim Heacock likes what he has seen from his young D-line this spring. Three-year starters (and soon to be NFL draft picks) Tim Anderson, Darrion Scott and Will Smith will be tough to replace, but Heacock knows there is still a lot of talent up front.
"I think they've made good progress," Heacock said. "We've had three good weeks. Quinn Pitcock is really making a lot of progress. We have a long way to go, obviously, but I think Quinn's making progress. Sian (Cotton) is looking good. Jay (Richardson) is making progress. Mike Kudla - he had surgery right before spring ball, so he's kind of feeling his way a little bit, but he's getting better.
"I think we're making some progress, but certainly we've got some big shoes to fill and we've got a ways to go."
Heacock has been especially impressed with Pitcock, who is very similar to Anderson in some respects.
"Well, with Pitcock, he really played well all of last year," Heacock said. "He probably played a little better last year than I gave him credit for because he started, what, two games I think. He played well. As we watch the films from last year, we're saying, ‘Wow, he's probably better than what we thought.' So, he's been good and he's had a real good spring. Real strong kid."
Richardson is a player who still needs to add some bulk to his skinny frame, but the coaches like his quickness of the edge.
"Jay is focused and locked in to having some direction to what he wants to do," Heacock said. "He's worked hard in the offseason, worked hard in the weight room and worked hard in 6 a.m. workouts. His strength is pass rush and he's got to get a lot more physical and stronger against the run. But, you see the guy getting better and better and the biggest thing I see is the mental part of it where now he's taking it serious and he's really locked in mentally."
Heacock wants to use at least an eight-man rotation on the defensive line in 2004. In Saturday's scrimmage, David Patterson, Marcus Green and Joel Penton were unavailable due to injury, so Heacock couldn't roll as many through as he would have liked. However, if the group can stay healthy, an eight-man rotation will not be a problem. In fact, Heacock thinks as many as 10 will be ready to contribute come fall.
"Well, that's the thing: I think right now we've got a bunch of guys that can play," Heacock said. "Sian went with the ones today and played pretty well. He's coming along pretty good. ‘Mop' (Brandon Maupin) had a good day today.
"We've got a bunch of guys, but what we need - as I told them afterwards - we need more playmakers. It's one thing to have a bunch of guys, but you want a bunch of guys playing really, really well. They all have to step up and be more productive. We've got to tackle better. We had a chance today at a lot of sacks that we missed. We've just got to improve upon a lot of things.
"But the neat thing about this group is attitude and effort has really been good. They work hard and they'll play hurt. A few of them played hurt today. I really like the group as a whole and the approach that they're taking. I think with another four months, they'll be a formidable group."
The injuries up front have swung the door wide open for Cotton - a big man that moves very well on his feet.
"It's really given Sian a chance to play," Heacock said. "We know David can play and we know Marcus can play and they're going to be good players for us. But with them being out, it's given Sian so many more reps and that's what he needs. He's a young guy that didn't get much last year. He redshirted and played on the scout team. But now he's getting an opportunity to go an awful lot. He's getting better."
Heacock likes having so much competition up front. You could make the argument that only one starting job is locked up: defensive end Simon Fraser. Or two considering the way Pitcock has played this spring.
"It's kind of neat right now because we've got a lot of hungry guys," Heacock said. "Last year at this time we pretty much had our starting group and they felt good about themselves and the young guys probably figured they were going to be backups and get a little bit of playing time. But this year it's pretty wide open. A lot of guys know they have a pretty good chance for playing time. So, there's a lot of hunger in there and intensity. It's a little more upbeat and I really like it. It's a fun group to be around."
Quarterback Justin Zwick didn't have a great scrimmage, but he was solid. He had good command of the offense and looked like a solid field general out there. Sound familiar?
"That's a lot of what Coach (Jim) Tressel talks about," Zwick said. "You know, you've got to be smart with the ball. You don't want to force things. That's what Craig (Krenzel) did a lot here. He never really forced too much in there and he was just smart with the ball and did what we needed to do to win games and that's the kind of quarterback Coach Tressel wants, I think."
Zwick thinks the scrimmage went well for the most part.
"It's a ‘W' so you've got to be happy with that," he said. "When you run that many plays, you're going to have mistakes and people are going to mess up here and there, but overall, I thought we did a pretty good job. We picked up some blitzes here and there and I had a couple good runs and passes and made some big plays, so I think overall it went well."
Nothing will make a quarterback happier than seeing his tailback break an 80-yard touchdown on the first play.
"Yeah, I wasn't ready for that," Zwick said. "I was tired after running down the field to celebrate. But Lydell looks fast and that's something that is going to be good for us. He's running well and let's hope he keeps going and going and working harder and we'll have more of that."
"We've got a lot of guys out there that can catch the ball and lot of them are young," he said. "They're fitting in there for the first time and getting a lot of playing time and they're just going to get better. The more experience they get, they'll feel more comfortable and they'll make big plays for us."
"Well, all but that one interception I think everything went well," he said. "As far as that goes (battle for the starting job) I don't worry about it. We won the game and I was cheering for whoever was on the field at that time to score some points and that's what it was really about."
Zwick did not downplay winning the scrimmage, as some of his teammates did. He thinks it was important to secure the scarlet jerseys.
"It means a lot," he said. "At Ohio State, we wear the scarlet jerseys when we're at home at the stadium, so you kind of want those jerseys. The fact that we have jersey scrimmages, it's kind of bragging rights a little bit against the defense we have now since we did take them back. It's fun. It gives you something extra to play for."
But don't look for Zwick to be talking any smack to the defense.
"I'm going to try and stay away from that," he said with a laugh. "I don't want to run my mouth too much. They took that black jersey (non-contact) off today, so I'm going to keep quiet. But, you know, we have fun with it."
Zwick was not surprised that he was "live" all day. Krenzel was forced to wear a black jersey in both scrimmages last year.
"No, it didn't surprise me whatsoever," Zwick said. "Actually, when we came in this morning they had black jerseys for us and they ended up taking them back, which I thought would happen because in this situation it's kind of tough to put that black jersey on so the defense can't hit you. Then you've got to worry about, ‘Oh, I touched him, he's down.'"
Zwick took a few shots, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Yeah, I did like it better this way," he said. "You don't want to be back in the pocket thinking, ‘I don't have anything to worry about. I have a black jersey on.' So, it gives you that little edge that you need to make sure you're making your reads and things like that."
Zwick is a deceptively good scrambler (another similarity with Krenzel), but he needs to work on getting down a little quicker. He has yet to perfect the art of sliding.
"Yeah, I do what I have to do sometimes," Zwick said. "If I have to slide, I will. I don't really worry about it too much. I took a shot from E.J. (Underwood) today and maybe I need to get down a little quicker. But Craig took many shots when he was here. Sometimes I wasn't sure if he was going to get up. So, maybe I took something from him, I don't know."
Zwick says the spring game next Saturday will be an interesting learning experience for the freshmen.
"When they come down that tunnel and they see all those people, it's going to open up their eyes a little bit," he said. "It's going to be some guys first chance to play in front of that big of a crowd, like it was for me last year. It's just fun. You get to be out there and do what you do in front of that many people and everybody is having fun. The teams are split up and you're playing with people that maybe you're not used to, but they're doing certain things for you. It's just a lot of fun to be out there."
Sophomore guard Doug Datish came to OSU two years ago as the top-rated offensive lineman in Ohio and one of the best in the country. However, Datish struggled a bit with pass protection and didn't see much playing time last year.
This year, he has really come on and finds himself atop the depth chart.
"I'm not a starter yet, this is just spring ball," Datish said. "It feels good to be with the ones, but it doesn't mean anything. You just have to keep playing good so you can keep your spot I guess."
Datish slimmed down a little bit since the end of the 2003 season.
"I'm 290 right now," he said. "I came in about 300 as a freshman and then I got up to 320 and then I dropped about 30 pounds. I've gotten a lot stronger and quicker."
The young offensive line more than held its own in the jersey scrimmage.
"I think today we did pretty good," Datish said. "Pass pro we looked pretty good. We didn't run the ball much at the end, but overall I thought we did a pretty good job run blocking."
Lydell Ross' long run put a smile on Datish's face.
"That felt real good, started things off nice," he said.
Datish explained how the 80-yard TD came about.
"It was a 47 where the backside guard (Mike Kne) pulls around and pops that linebacker," he said. "I had the one technique and I took him down. I don't know if it was that good of a block, but it was good enough, I guess."
Overall, spring ball has been a time for the young O-line to gel.
"This spring, we're kind of feeling each other out a little bit," Datish said. "We're starting to get to the point where we're starting to know what each other is going to do and how they're going to set and stuff like that."
Personally, Datish is feeling more comfortable. He's the first to admit he has a ways to go, but he has made strides this spring.
"I think I need to get a lot better, but I think I'm coming along," he said. "These past couple of years learning from guys a lot older than us has helped me out a lot. I just want to keep getting better."
Datish was a little winded and banged up after the jersey scrimmage, but that was expected after such a long day.
"Today was tough," he said. "We did a lot of plays. I think each of the linemen did about 40, or 50 plays. So, we're a little sore. I think I played pretty well. We'll see what the film says."
Senior wide receiver Bam Childress made a few nice plays in the scrimmage, including a one-handed grab over the middle and a nice touchdown in the flat in which he juked a defensive back.
"I just knew what he was going to do, so I baited him and when I baited him, I just rolled it out and scored," Childress said.
As much as the media is trying, you aren't going to get an OSU receiver to pick a favorite between Justin Zwick and Troy Smith.
"Both of them did real good today," Childress said. "Both of them kept their poise under pressure and made plays when they had to."
A reporter asked Childress if he thought someone was close to locking down the starting QB job.
"A little bit, but not really," he said. "You can win a job in spring, but you can lose it in camp, so it really doesn't matter who comes out of spring on top because you can still lose it in camp."
Childress thinks the receiving corps is deep and talented.
"We're coming along real well," he said. "Me, Roy (Hall) and Santonio (Holmes) are doing real good. John (Hollins) he's also doing good for us and the young guys are learning as much as they can."
Towards the end of the 2003 season, Childress finally showed some of that skill that made him Mr. Football in Ohio coming out of high school.
"Yeah, at the end of the season last year, I think I played real well," he said. "I just wanted to keep building on that and just keep getting better. Each day, I'm trying to work on something new, meeting with Coach Tress and Coach (Darrell) Hazell."
Like most of the players on the offense, Holmes had nothing to complain about afterwards.
"It was a pretty good day," Holmes said. "Everybody's out trying to have some fun and we came out with a win. We got the scarlet jerseys and that feels good. We just have to maintain it from now on."
Holmes says you won't find him talking any trash to the defense.
"No, Coach (Jim) Tressel told us no negative talk because it's all a team," he said. "Coach (Jim) Bollman did the same thing, he pulled us to the side and told us that everything is a team thing and if we feel like we're above the team, then we're not going to make it anywhere during the season."
Holmes didn't do much early in the scrimmage, then really came on towards the end with a touchdown grab on a fade from Troy Smith and several other nice plays.
"Overall, I thought the defense played pretty good and they were tough on us," Holmes said. "We wanted to get our running game started and that's why toward the end we started throwing it a little more to see what we can do under pressure and things like that."
Holmes had a close view of Lydell Ross' touchdown run on the first play.
"Oh yeah, I wasn't even aware that he had broke it at first," Holmes said. "Good thing I stayed on my block and when I looked around he was right on my side and breaking free and I just kept running with him."
It seemed as though Ashton Youboty was going to catch Ross, but it didn't happen. Youboty whiffed on a tackle attempt past midfield.
"I thought he was going to catch him, but Lydell just had the urge to get in the end zone and he pulled away from him," Holmes said.
For a relatively young player, Holmes is already talking like a veteran.
"We've got to get all the young guys to learn the system more," he said. "Just in case we get any injuries that occur, we want to get the younger guys comfortable with the system so we can have someone to back us up in case someone goes down."