Moment Arrives For Zwick, Smith

After sitting behind Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen for the last two years, sophomores Justin Zwick and Troy Smith now go head to head for the starting quarterback job at Ohio State. We spoke to Zwick and Smith at Wednesday's photo day to get a read on where this competition stands. Click here for more.

Like two fish in a fishbowl, Ohio State sophomores Justin Zwick and Troy Smith have begun the race to No. 1.

No. 1 quarterback, that is, for the OSU football team.

Practice opened for the 2004 season on Wednesday and these two talented players know their every move will be critiqued by OSU head coach Jim Tressel and quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels.

But Tressel said he wants to see his two candidates to replace departed starter Craig Krenzel relax and focus on the task at hand.

"The thing we try to get across that is critical is they really can't worry about who the quarterback is going to be," Tressel said. "They have to worry about what they can do to be good enough to be our quarterback. If their thoughts are anything beyond their appearance – even wondering what the other guy is doing – it will affect their performance.

"They have to focus on themselves and that's hard. You're wondering what the competition is doing and what the coaches are thinking. If you can avoid that thinking, it will really help your play."

Tressel has penciled the 6-4, 225-pound Zwick in as the starter, although he has repeatedly said that Smith (6-1, 215) would also get a chance to show what he can do.

We had a chance to speak with Zwick and Smith at Wednesday's photo day. Here is some of what they had to say:

Zwick: Prepared For This Moment

Zwick won a state championship at Orrville High School before spending his last two years at tradition-rich Massillon Washington. Those experiences have helped him get ready for the rigors of the Big Ten, he said.

"I think I'm prepared for it," he said. "Massillon was kind of like a small Ohio State for me. It was kind of the same way. If I threw a couple interceptions or had a bad game, they would let me hear about it. I know this will be a higher level, but you just can't listen to it. I know people talk about it, but you can't let that stuff weigh on your mind. You have to have the quarterback memory and just move on."

Zwick verbaled to Ohio State in the summer of 2001. With the quarterback job open in the fall of 2002, some thought he would have a chance to steal the job then. But Craig Krenzel grabbed it and held on tight for the last two years. For a guy who had played four years of varsity high school football, the transition to backup was hard, Zwick said.

"It was tough," he admitted. "The first few games stunk. You're used to playing. You're used to being the guy and now you're just one of the guys cheering the team on. That was fun, but after a while you see the big picture and you realize it was good to take that year off and get better and do what you had to do. All in all, I'm happy I redshirted and was under Craig (Krenzel) and Scott (McMullen) and I learned from those guys.

"Being under those guys, they were so cool and relaxed in games. That is something I took from them, along with their work ethic and everything they did to prepare for games. They were great at sharing info and ideas with me. I am grateful for everything they taught me."

Zwick was asked if he considers this team to be his.

"I think you have to," he said. "You can't go out there every day and worry about it. You have to be confident in what you do and make plays and be smart.

"I'm somewhat relaxed, just excited about everything going on. I can finally be the guy out on the field. That's what I've wanted to do for a couple years. You just have to stay calm and cool."

Zwick was asked to describe what the next three weeks – and possibly next three years – will be like.

"It's definitely going to be competitive," he said. "Every position here is competitive. All you can do is go out and work hard. Coach Tressel gets all that money to make decisions. He's going to do that as he always does.

"I think the competition brings out the best in everybody. We've been competing for the two years we've been here, even when we were on the scout team. I think that just makes you a better quarterback and a better leader."

Zwick was asked to illustrate differences between himself and the rangy Smith.

"Everybody knows I'm a guy who likes to sit in the pocket and throw the ball around," he said. "I'll move around if I have to. If that's what the team needs, I'll do it. He's a guy who is exciting and makes big plays. He's fun to watch. In the end, either of us will get the job done. We have to work on everything to get better and we're excited about the chance."

Smith: Making Things Happen

Smith was impressive at Wednesday's photo day as he discussed different scenarios. He talked about what the Buckeyes are looking for in their next quarterback.

"We have to be a leader," said Smith, who prepped at Cleveland Glenville and Lakewood St. Edward. "We've got a lot of young guys. The big thing for the quarterbacks right now is leading our guys and being a role model and setting examples for the young guys."

Smith said he, too, is prepared to be the lightning rod if things don't go as planned or hoped this season.

"As a quarterback, I understand that when we win we can get all the praise in the world," he said. "But when we lose we can get all of the blame, too. I'm ready for that."

Some have labeled Zwick as the "passer" and Smith as the "athlete." Those tags are too simplistic, Smith said.

"I don't think they should say that because I can throw the ball, too," he said. "I would probably say the difference is that when things break down, I look forward to making a play with my feet. Justin probably looks forward to completing a pass. I look to complete that pass, too. But if the pass is not open, I am not going to just sit there in the pocket and wait for some things to happen. I've got to go out and make things happen."

Smith was asked what he would do if he does not win the starting job. His reply: "I'm going to react to it in a way any Buckeye would. I'm going to keep striving and moving forward. Football is not forever. There are things in the state of Ohio outside the game of football that I can probably do as well as football."

He was asked if he would stay at OSU is he "loses" the quarterback derby.

"Of course," he said. "I signed a letter-of-intent to come here for four years. However long it takes me to get my degree, this is my home."

Smith told reporters he believes the OSU offense is ready for a breakout year, regardless of who is piloting the ship.

"This offense, right now, is one of the best I've been here in the three years I've been here," Smith said. "Our offensive line is doing a lot of things that people don't see and don't know about. They're doing things better now than in the past. We have a lot of movement now. We have offensive linemen who can flat out run. They are 285, 290. We didn't have that versatility before."

When asked about his strengths, Smith said, "Making plays, being able to get out of sticky situations and making plays with the ball. Dropping back and passing it with some type of force and velocity behind the ball."

And for his weaknesses: "Probably one of my weaknesses right now is knowing when I should run and when I shouldn't run."

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