Left tackle Rob Sims was a key member of the offensive line the last two seasons. He started two games as a true freshman on the national championship team and was a starter throughout the 2003 campaign.
Sims was a good pass blocker the moment he arrived in Columbus two years ago, but admits his run-blocking wasn't always up to par.
"Definitely my run blocking has come up," Sims said. "I'm doing a lot better run blocking. And I'm a better leader out there now. A lot more communicating. I'm just a better offensive lineman as a whole."
Sims bucked the trend by playing a lot as a true freshman. It doesn't look like any of the current crop of freshman will play this year, but Sims has been impressed with what he's seen so far.
"The young guys are coming along real good," he said. "Steve Rehring is looking real good. Ben Person, Kyle Mitchum and Jon Skinner, they're all still learning. Steve was here in the spring so he knows a little bit more, so it's a little easier for him to play. But it's hard to play as a young guy on the offensive line. There's just so much to learn. I think they'll be all right with time."
The young linemen are often picking the brains of Sims and junior center Nick Mangold. They want to know the secret to success.
"They ask, 'How'd you end up playing early?' and I was like, 'I learned it fast. Pass protection has to be good to play on this line.' Just questions like that. 'How'd I get to be where I am right now?' Those kinds of questions," Sims said.
Sims put in a lot of long hours in the weight room in the offseason and feels stronger coming into this season.
"I would say so," he said. "Not so much weight-wise - my weight has shifted around a little bit as far as muscle and where I put things differently - but I'm pretty much the same weight I was as a freshman, just a lot stronger. I'm feeling real good right now."
The three-man battle at right tackle continues between Kirk Barton, T.J. Downing and Tim Schafer. One school of thought is that the Buckeyes need to decide on someone soon because cohesion is so important on the offensive line. But Sims thinks the RT competition will benefit the team in the long run.
"I think it's a good thing that three guys are going for the job right now because we're going to find out who the best right tackle is," he said. "It's going to make somebody rise to the top competition-wise. That's one spot we need to secure to really get this ball rolling. Once we get everything in place, this offensive line is going to be real good."
The Buckeyes had their final day of two-a-day practices on Monday. Sims was happy to complete the most grueling part of camp.
"Yeah, I'm glad two-a-days are over," he said. "We're not out of the woods yet, but I'm glad they're over. I'm just real excited for this season to start. It's my junior year and I'm just ready to go."
With the opener less than two weeks away, Sims says there are no signs of nerves.
"I don't think anyone's nervous about the opener," he said. "I think we're ready. We've been preparing hard. All preseason camp, we've been going out there playing hard. We've had a great two weeks of practice so far. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's a great opportunity to show the world that we're ready to go."
Sims believes the offense is coming together well. He thinks Saturday's win in the jersey scrimmage was a good first step.
"Yeah, the offense has a whole is looking real good," he said. "We had a great scrimmage. We can run the ball all over the place. Our pass protection is good. We have Santonio Holmes and Roy Hall catching balls all over the place. We've got three good quarterbacks, so we're doing fine."
Much has been said about OSU's offensive line being a lot quicker and more mobile this season. The added athletic ability will lead to more traps and sweeps off pull blocks.
"Yes, we're definitely a lot quicker, a lot faster," Sims said. "We're a more athletic line than we've had in the past. We lost four great guys, but we replaced them with four great guys. Everyone has stepped up, so it's been a good experience to learn from these new guys that I've been playing with now. It's been going very well."
New tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator John Peterson has been helping out a lot on the O-line this year and Sims has been impressed.
"He's a great coach," he said. "Knows a lot about the game and knows a lot about playing on the offensive line. I'm very fortunate to have two great coaches I can learn from - Coach (Jim) Bollman and Coach Peterson - I'm in a very good situation."
Defensive end Redgie Arden was involved in an altercation Saturday night in Huntington, W.Va. in which he was reportedly attacked by Marshall football players. Sims does not think there will be paybacks on Sept. 11 in the Horseshoe.
"We really don't have too many facts yet on what happened to Redgie," Sims said. "It's an unfortunate accident. My prayers go out to him and his family. We just approach every game with the same intensity. No paybacks; same intensity."
* Senior right guard Mike Kne is an interesting story. He started his career at I-AA Fordham where he was a starter as a true freshman in 2000. He then transferred to OSU and sat out the 2001 season while working on the scout team in practice. He worked his way up to the two-deep in 2002 and received some playing time. Kne then earned a scholarship prior to the '03 season and played quite a bit as the "sixth man" on the line.
Now, Kne is a starter, but he says not all that much has changed in terms of the way he prepares.
"I think I take the same approach as the past three years," he said. "I haven't really proven much. I've played, but I have so much more to prove. So, I have the same mindset as before."
The coaching staff obviously is obviously impressed with Kne to make him a clear-cut starter. You don't hear any talk about a battle at right guard.
"I just know they know I'm a hard worker and I get out there and finish off the plays and I never give up," Kne said. "That's just my personality."
Kne worked hard in the offseason. The goal was to get quicker and stronger and he thinks he had a productive summer.
"I lost a couple pounds, but I put some muscle mass on and got stronger," he said. "I feel good about what I did in the weight room."
Kne is ready for the Cincinnati game. It can't get here soon enough.
"I'm really excited," he said. "I'm sick of hitting our own guys. I want to go out there against another opponent. It will be fun."
Kne did not want to comment very much on the Arden situation.
"I don't even know the whole circumstances with that," he said. "I'm just looking forward to the Marshall game just as much as any other game."
But he understands it will only add to the drama before and during the game.
"At the most, I think it might be, whatever, poster board material, but I think we're professional enough not to let that interfere with the game," he said. "I don't even really know what happened. I don't think it's going to affect our team."
Although Kne has accomplished quite a bit in his career, working his way up the ranks, he is not satisfied.
"I've come far, but I want to go farther, so I'm not really looking at the past or what I accomplished," he said. "I'm just thinking about this year and the goals I want to accomplish.
"When I first went to Fordham my goal was to start there. When I came to Ohio State, my goal was to start here, so hopefully that happens."
Kne has a good sense of humor. He's not afraid to take a shot at himself.
"When I came here, I don't think I was very good," he said. "Coach Bolls molded me into a good player. I give him the credit for that.
"I was just young. There were a lot of techniques and things I could get away with before and up here at the big-time, you can't."
Kne played for St. Ignatius in high school, but even with the exposure he received playing on one of the top teams in the state, he was ignored by most recruiters.
"Coming out of high school, I was 6-2, 240," he said. "I grew a couple inches and now I'm up to 300. I was happy to get letters from MAC schools, but none of them ended up offering me and that was kind of disappointing, so I went the I-AA route."
Kne is watching the right tackle battle with great interest. Whoever wins the job will be his right hand man, literally.
"I like that they've been rotating in and the coaches are seeing who fits best with what and things like that," Kne said. "I wouldn't mind if they rotated in a couple guys. I think they could narrow it down a little, which they probably will. But if a couple guys rotate in there, I think that would work pretty good."
Kne thinks that Schafer and Downing are running a little bit ahead right now.
"I think Tim and T.J. are right up there at the top really
working," he said. "They both have their different, better qualities
and I think they both can contribute in their own way."