Fullback Branden Joe is one of the few fifth-year seniors on the team this year. He says he enjoys his leadership role and the responsibility that goes along with it.
"That's one of the things that Coach (Jim) Tressel stresses to us: he wants the seniors to have our best year, but he also wants us to be leaders. I like being one of the vets. One of the old dudes. I want to lead by example and have the younger guys come to me with any questions."
Joe has seen steady improvement in third-year sophomore quarterback Justin Zwick, the likely starter.
"Well, over the summer we worked on our seven-on-seven drills and he got his timing down with the wide receivers and us," Joe said. "He's seems pretty comfortable in the pocket. He's not showing happy feet. He threw off his back foot a lot when he first got here, but now he's stepping into his passes, following through. He's not panicking. He's relaxed."
The 2003 season was a tough one for Joe. He tore a pectoral muscle just before camp opened last year and was not able to play until midway through the season. When he came back, he still wasn't 100 percent. In fact, he wasn't at full strength until the Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State, in which he had 11 carries for 46 yards.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that was my coming out party," Joe said. "Hopefully it will continue on to this year. I got the ball a lot in the spring and I'm prepared to get the ball a lot this year."
Tressel indicated that Joe will play both fullback and tailback this year.
"Oh yeah, I have no problem with that," Joe said. "I like playing both spots. I get to do a little bit of everything."
Joe says the team is focused on getting back to the national championship game.
"Our team goals never change," he said. "If you look at our schedule in the team room, it has Rose Bowl or national championship listed as our last game of the year. The team goals will never change as long as Coach Tressel is here. Win the Big Ten; win the national championship."
It's been 20 years since the Buckeyes won an outright Big Ten title. You can bet it's been a topic of discussion in the locker room.
"Every season we talk about it," Joe said. "Hopefully we can get that accomplished this year."
Over the summer, Joe worked on a number of things to improve his game.
"I worked on maintaining my strength, quickness and agility, catching the ball, things like that," he said.
Joe was asked what role he wants to play this season.
"My role is going to be to play wherever they want me to play," he said. "I'm a fullback, but I can play tailback. I want to be a leader. Set an example for all the young guys. We don't have many experienced players."
As much as he wants the ball in his hands, the Westerville native says he will not lobby the coaching staff for more carries, or receptions.
"The reason I'm not asking for the ball is because they know I can handle the ball," Joe said. "If they didn't know I could handle the ball, then I'd be like, 'Hey, throw me the ball, let me show you what I can do.' But I think I'll get the ball ample times. I get passes, handoffs. I'm not asking for the ball."
Fifth-year senior Josh Huston (left) is one of the players vying for the punting job. It will probably come down to Huston, or senior walk-on Kyle Turano, a Bowling Green transfer.
"I think as long as I limit my bad kicks, I'll be OK," Huston said. "I'm looking for consistency. Forty yards, 4.5 (second hang time) every time."
The coaching staff has not told Huston that it is his job to lose.
"They really haven't presented it to me like that," he said. "There's still a lot of camp, a lot of preseason stuff left. We still have a kick scrimmage and a lot of other stuff. When that is said and done, I'm sure they'll let us know. But right now, I've been running with the ones and as far as I'm concerned, if I continue doing what I did in the spring and keep improving, I'll be out there Sept. 4."
Huston knows that Tressel stresses the importance of a solid punting game.
"I think everyone understands the importance of it," he said. "Just look at the national championship game - Andy (Groom) had a huge day. I know the defense appreciated it."
Huston hopes this is not his final season in a Buckeye uniform.
"I've applied for the sixth year," he said. "It's a long process. I feel pretty good about it. I think it's a good opportunity, but it's something that I really can't concern myself with right now because it's out of my control. I have to get ready for the season. But hopefully I'll know soon."
Mike Nugent will probably go down as the best kicker ever at OSU. His confidence is brimming as he prepares to enter his final college season.
"Once we get to about the 43 or 40 yard line, I want them to know we're at least going to get three points out of this," Nugent said. "We always want to score touchdowns, but I just want them to know I'm ready to knock 'em through the uprights whenever we need it."
The Buckeyes have an excellent long snapper in senior Kyle Andrews. But for the third consecutive year, Nugent will be breaking in a new holder.
"Yeah, Kyle Turano will be the holder," Nugent said. "It's one of those things where I'm glad I get to hang out with him a lot in the offseason. It's kind of the same transition from Andy to B.J. (Sander) and now it's B.J. to Kyle. Neither one of them had experience doing it, but they have the talent to do it. It's one of those things that no one ever thinks about because it's a tiny little thing, but you have to have it. If you don't, it's going to be a rough season. So, it's been nice to hang out with Kyle a lot and kind of get on the same page."
Nugent is not ready to pick a favorite in the race for the open punting job. He says the battle between Huston and Turano will last throughout camp, maybe into the season.
"That's a really good question," Nugent said. "I wish I could tell you that it was someone's job to lose. I've been watching Josh and Kyle really close and they've both been hitting the ball really well this offseason, but one of the things I'm going to try and help them out with is just to kind of calm them down. I think they both hit the ball great, but sometimes they don't hit it as well when there is guys coming after them. Both of them have been working so hard this offseason on stuff like that and hopefully one of them steps up. I'm one of those people, it really doesn't matter to me."
On kickoffs, Nugent can drill a touchback nearly every time. However, the Buckeyes used the "pooch" kick on kickoffs quite often last year (usually with poor results). This year, look for more touchbacks and less short kicks.
"The coaches know that that can happen and this year they've pretty much said, 'Lets put the ball in the middle and just kick it.' We're not going to think about placement this year. We're going for touchbacks," Nugent said.