Junior outside linebacker A.J. Hawk - the Big Ten preseason defensive player of the year - has an interesting take on what makes OSU's linebackers so good.
"The big thing is unity among all of you," Hawk said. "We have three linebacker spots, but we have eight or nine guys that can play in those spots. So, the good thing is that all of us get along real well and we have fun when we're out there playing with each other, so that's the biggest thing, I think.
"And obviously then you have to have good instincts. We've been running this same scheme for three years, which helps. We're all juniors already. Me, Bobby (Carpenter), (Anthony) Schlegel, (Mike) D'Andrea, Thomas Matthews is a senior now. You really need to know what's going on, but the biggest thing I think is trusting your other buddy next to you and knowing what he's going to do."
Schlegel has been a nice shot in the arm for the defense. What the 2003 Buckeyes lacked is a true playmaker in the middle.
"Yeah, we've seen what he can do," Hawk said. "We saw him play
on film before he even got here. We've known that he's proven himself already.
And the rest of us, we came in together, so we definitely know what each other
is going to do. We have that trust. If that's his job, we know he's going to do
his job and we'll do ours and everything will work out."
Hawk explained how he caught Schlegel on film two years ago.
"He played San Diego State when he was at Air Force and we were scouting them and I remember we were watching their offense and we got to see a little bit of what he could do."
Most defensive coordinators prefer sitting in the press box during games.
They say it gives them a much better view of what the opposing offense is doing
and how best to attack it.
Mark Dantonio coached from the box with great results. Curiously, Mark Snyder will stay on the field during games and will rely on coaches like Jim Heacock and Mel Tucker to send down any important information from the box.
"Coach Snyder being on the sidelines, that won't be much different for us because he was on the sidelines last year, but obviously he's the coordinator now, so it will be a little different," Hawk said. "Scheme-wise, there's not much difference. We're running a lot of the stuff we did last year. Same type of stuff. We're the same type of defense. It's really not that complicated. To be a great defense, you have to run to the ball and have great pursuit and effort, which is the same thing Coach Dantonio preached. That's what we've prided ourselves on since I've been here."
The Cincinnati game will be interesting for a number of reasons. Dantonio will want to prove that the Buckeyes aren't as good without him, while Snyder will want to prove they haven't missed a beat.
"Yeah, that's definitely true," Hawk said. "That's why we want to come out and play hard and play well for Coach Snyder because it will be his first game as coordinator and being coordinator at Ohio State, that's a big-time job. So, I'm sure if we didn't go out there and play well he'd be feeling some pressure, so we want to make sure that he'll have the easiest day possible against UC."
Aside from being one of the best players in college football, Hawk is an intelligent young man. He likes reading in his spare time and Jim Tressel supplies him with plenty of material.
"These books they have you read during camp, when I first got here, I was a little skeptical, but then when you actually get into them and read them, they have a lot of good points," Hawk said. "What I kind of think about is remembering when I was a little kid and I would see Ohio State players and you'd look up to them like, 'Man!' You don't even think they're human. To just remember all the players we've had here in the past, it's unreal and to think that I'm a part of something like that, that really makes you believe and makes you want to come out and perform and keep up the tradition we have."
Hawk says reading is a good escape from football.
"We have a book right now that we're reading called What it Means to be a Buckeye, by Coach Tressel," he said. "He wrote it and it has a lot of players telling what it means to play here and telling little stories about their lives and how they got here.
"And we're reading another book called Today Matters by a guy named John Maxwell. He really just talks about every aspect of your life. We really don't read football-type stuff. We always have something that has to do with life, which is what I like because we're football all the time. So, when you come in here and get to do something that pertains to real life, it's kind of nice because you're not going to play football forever. You're going to have to get out in the real world sometime."
Hawk has learned to trust what his head coach says, no matter how strange it might seem at first.
"When I came in I would hear Coach Tressel say stuff like, 'The punt is
the most important play in football,' and stuff like that and I was like, 'Yeah,
OK.' And then I was on the punt team and I saw what we did the last two years
with Andy Groom and B.J. Sander and you start thinking that the punt is a big
part of our team. I've bought into all of it. I agree with all of it now."