Buckeyes Begin Morning Workouts

The Woody Hayes Athletic Center was open for business at 6 a.m. Tuesday as Ohio State began its winter workouts. We have comments from Jim Tressel, Troy Smith, Santonio Holmes, Anthony Schlegel, Brandon Mitchell, and Nate Salley on the early workout sessions and much more.

Ohio State is in the first week of morning workouts and opened its doors to the media Tuesday morning.

The Buckeyes have a total of 10 morning workouts – which each run from 6-7:30 a.m. The sessions will run through the second week of March.

A big topic of discussion Tuesday was the status of junior quarterback Troy Smith. He was suspended from the Alamo Bowl for receiving improper benefits from an OSU booster – Robert Baker – and his suspension could carry into the 2005 opener against Miami.

Smith met briefly with reporters, but did not want to discuss any details about his suspension, or his relationship with Baker. He did not say whether he believed the money he received from Baker was an advance payment for work to be done in the future, as his former high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr, indicated in a Columbus Dispatch interview on Monday.

"They tell us about the things we should do as far as money outlets, and I just made a poor decision as a man," Smith said. "I need to make better ones in the future."

Smith knows he must earn back the trust of his teammates.

"First and foremost, as a leader on the team, I let my guys down," Smith said. "But, life goes on and the decisions that we make are decisions that make us a man. So, life goes on."

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was asked if he thinks Smith should have said more about the situation to reporters in order to rehabilitate his image with OSU fans. Tressel was also asked in the same breath if people have the right to ask Smith questions about the incident.

"Well, there's no question people have a right to ask those questions, that's our country," Tressel said. "Right now, he's in the midst of the process. So, I would say the best thing would be… I'm not saying not answer those questions, but not talk about it, because we're in the midst of it and obviously we don't know the answers.

"I think once we have a resolution, which obviously we would all like to be sooner than later, I think then you can go about – not sure how you would phrase it exactly – but rehabilitating himself with the fans, or however you phrased it. But I think the way you rehabilitate yourself with anyone is through your actions and what you do in the future, not what you say today. We've all had someone say, ‘I'm sorry,' then go make the same mistake. So, I understand why he doesn't want to expound."

Tressel was asked if he believes Ginn Sr.'s explanation that Smith thought the money was for future work.

"You know, I've never really heard that, but I have not had any discussion with anyone that has sat and heard that," he said. "Obviously when I talk with the NCAA, or I talk with our compliance people, or whatever, the only discussion I have is the questions they ask me and don't really get involved with what anyone else is saying about it. Especially, again, when you're in the middle of a case."

Tressel says it's not a done deal that Smith will be suspended for the Miami game. The QB could be cleared in time for the opener, although that doesn't seem likely.

"No, I don't have that understanding," Tressel said. "I've heard it said. People have said they've read it and so forth. I've never heard that from an official source. I think where that comes from – I'm not saying that is a poor suggestion – I think that comes from people doing case precedent, saying when this type of thing has occurred in the past, here is what it's meant. That's why back in December when our people got together, we said, ‘Hey, the best thing for us to do is to suspend Troy for the bowl game.' Based on case precedent, that might suffice, or perhaps something as we begin the season. But I don't know that anyone has been told anything officially. At least I have not."

* Junior wide receiver Santonio Holmes could have tested the NFL waters this year, but decided to come back for at least one more season.

In 2004, Holmes led the Buckeyes with 55 receptions for 769 yards and seven touchdowns.

Ohio State's offense really came together towards the end of the season and Holmes explained why.

"It was the feeling that we've won three games in a row and we've lost three games," he said. "So, we got that out of the way and we knew what it felt like to lose. And just no matter who was at quarterback, we knew we had to win games. That kind of brought our team closer and closer together.

"I attribute that to a lot of hard work. At the beginning of the season, it was just me at receiver. And now we had Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez coming on and helping us become a lot better. It kind of sparked our offense and it kind of took a lot of pressure off me."

Receivers coach Darrell Hazell recently interviewed with the Green Bay Packers, but will be staying at OSU for at least one more season.

Holmes thinks he might be best WR coach in the land.

"Oh man, it's going to be great because (Hazell) came in last year and really pushed us," Holmes said. "He worked our tails off since he first got in here at 6 a.m.'s last year. He's been here a whole year and it feels like he's been around for about four or five years. He's made that big of an impact on our program."

Holmes is entering his fourth year in the program and has taken a leadership role. He thinks the morning workouts are all about developing mental toughness.

"It really determines who wants to be a leader for this team," he said. "Who wants to help this team out the most and which guys are willing to follow those leaders. It kind of pushes us to become a great team if all of those aspects come out."

Holmes is good friends with Smith and says the QB will be able to earn back his teammates' trust.

"I think so, because he came in and he earned his respect for winning games for us," Holmes said. "Coming in and doing things that haven't been done at the quarterback position and just being himself is what got him here. And I think if he keeps doing that, I think he'll be all right."

Holmes was asked what time he rolls out of bed for these morning workouts.

"I get up exactly at 5 and I'm out of the house at 5:15," he said. "I probably go to bed about 10:30, 10:45."

How often does he have to hit the snooze button?

"Man, what I do is not turn my alarm clock off, because I know if I hit it one time, then I'll probably go back to sleep," he said. "So, I turn it up a little louder to make sure I get out of bed."

But Holmes is carrying himself as the leader of the offense and says that he does not mind getting up early for the workouts. He says it goes with the territory and wants everyone on the team working as hard as they can.

"Knowing that all your guys are going to be here, all your coaches are going to be here and you're looking forward to great accomplishments in the future, being here four years, you just have to have an understanding of what it takes," he said. "When you know what's at stake and the opportunity that you have, guys just have to realize that, man, it's going to take more than just waking up and showing up here. It's going to take more than getting here and finishing workouts. Being here four years, you see a lot, and you know what to do and what not to do. And if a lot of those younger guys could follow our footsteps right now and we can carry those guys, I think we'll get to be where we want to be."

Texas will come to Columbus for a Sept. 10 showdown. It will be at night and both teams could be ranked in the top five. But Holmes is not looking past the opener.

"Miami of Ohio," he said. "Miami of Ohio. We can't look past those guys, you know. Two seasons ago, they were a top team in the polls. I think they have a great program and they're going to have some determined guys that are going to want to come into the 'Shoe and upset our team. Marshall almost did it last year coming from the MAC, and everyone thinks, ‘Oh, the MAC is small schools,' but those guys are going to have a lot to prove."

Speaking of that Marshall game, a 24-21 OSU victory, it was basically the coming out party for Holmes. He had 199 receiving yards by halftime and finished the game with 10 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns. His totals would have been higher, but he missed much of the second half with cramps.

"Oh man, it was a great feeling," Holmes said of the Marshall game. "I had talked to my parents before the game and they said they weren't going to be able to make it and it kind of had me down. But I talked to my kids and my son told me, ‘Good luck today dad, have a good game.' It kind of sparked me a little. I talked to him just before I went out on the field. I don't know, just something got into me and I was making big catches all over the field and I was exploiting a lot in there defense. I came to the sidelines a couple times and I told (Tressel), ‘Hey, I see a few things that's open in their defense.' (Tressel) kind of talked to the quarterbacks and kind of made the connections."

Holmes has two sons: Santonio III (who will be 3 in April), and nine-month-old NiCori.

* Senior middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel is wired a bit different than your average college player. He actually likes the morning workouts. Of course, for a guy that hunts wild boars with a knife, getting out of bed a little earlier to workout is nothing.

Even when the Buckeyes were between drills Tuesday morning, Schlegel was working out on his own.

"I just go over there and do the bike and go as fast as I can for however long they want, then I go over and do the circuit just non-stop, because I just push myself," Schlegel said. "I get as much out of it as I can."

Schlegel understands the importance of morning workouts.

"It's a tough thing, but it's good," he said. "It shows who is going to be accountable and who's going to keep pushing it when it comes to spring ball time, when it comes to season. It kind of shows who's been working hard for the past month and a half. So, it's just one of those things that you've got to do and it's just part of showing your teammates that you're going to be there for them. Whatever you put into it is what you're going to get out of it."

Ohio State's defense improved throughout the 2004 season. Mark Snyder was in his first year as defensive coordinator and took some lumps early, but he had the Silver Bullets flying around well by the end of the year.

"I think we had to find our identity," Schlegel said. "Our identity is a little different. All three of us at linebacker (Schlegel, A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter) are good blitzers and when we came with the blitz those last five games – we were blitzing a lot more. You saw Michigan and Oklahoma State, we were blitzing a lot more. We just had to find our identity, just like the offense had to find theirs. It was different (last) year than it was in previous years. So you just got to find and fit the game plan to your players and he did that and obviously he got comfortable and when you're comfortable, you can make different calls like that."

Schlegel is more than excited about the group's second year together.

"Oh, for sure," he said. "We're just ready to get this season going. We still have work to do and it's going to be fun. And that's why I love football, you've got to love working out to get ready to play and then the season comes and it makes everything worthwhile. But we're just getting ready and we're excited about him being here next year and just playing hard."

Snyder took everyone by surprise when he interviewed for LSU's defensive coordinator position a few weeks ago.

"We lost Coach Tuck and that's hard too," Schlegel said. "But they've obviously earned the right – just like Coach (Mark) Dantonio. He deserved to go be a head coach somewhere, and that hurt. And losing Coach Tuck's going to hurt as well. But, Coach Snydes knows what's going on and he's going to be the same old, same old. He's going to call the game and coach it like he wants to. So, we've got one more year of experience, so we're going to be better."

When asked if the Buckeyes might use more 3-4 alignments to get all of their good linebackers on the field together (Mike D'Andrea and Marcus Freeman will also be in the mix), Schlegel replied: "I don't know. We haven't talked about that. Coach Snydes does what Coach Snydes wants to do. We're just little pieces to the puzzle. I have no clue what we're going to do."

But Schlegel is aware of the fact that OSU has arguably the best linebackers in the country.

"We do have a lot of depth and a lot of experience and I think we're going to do good," he said. "We all work out together in the mornings and we go bowling and we hang out. They are my buddies and I think we're going to be great. So, that's what you've got to say.

"But you know, Iowa has great linebackers, all their guys are coming back. Michigan has pretty good linebackers. There are obviously a lot of good linebacker corps out there, but it's going to be a good challenge for us.

"And really for us it all depends on our D-line and they did a great job for us last year and they're all back, except for Simon (Fraser)."

* Junior safety Brandon Mitchell also has a positive outlook on the early morning workouts.

"It's kind of like building a house," Mitchell said. "Building a big mansion. You've got to start off small and lay the foundation. That's what 6 a.m's does, it lays the foundation for family, for teamwork, for togetherness. And then of course the conditioning part of it. It's the start of the 2005 season and we're just trying to get everything up and running right now."

Mitchell says it builds mental toughness more than anything else.

"Coach Tressel does everything he can to make sure that we're in the most strenuous situations we can possibly be in," he said. "I think in the long run that helps because in the fourth quarter, one minute left in the Michigan game, fourth down, I can look next to A.J. Hawk, or Nate Salley, or Quinn Pitcock and tells those guys, ‘Look, remember when we were doing 6 a.m.'s, can't be any harder than that.' So, he tried to make it as hard as it could possibly be, so in the game it will be easy for us."

Mitchell usually gets up early anyway. Not quite at 5 a.m., but he's not the typical college student that likes to sleep in.

"Well, I'm a morning person, so it doesn't really affect me getting up early," he said. "That's the beauty of teamwork. Some guys… like Nate doesn't like to get up early. And so I get up early and I might call him at like 5, 5:15, just to make sure that he's awake. I get here and I jump all over him and get him all hyped up and everything. That's just part of being part of a team. And once we start the workout, I might be tired or something during the workout, once I got Nate woke up and he starts getting ready, then he can push me. That's just the aspect of being a team."

* Salley might not enjoy getting up early, but once he arrives at the WHAC, he's ready to give it all he has. Salley, a senior, has been around the block a few times and knows there are a lot of positives to be taken from the morning workouts.

"Just the mental and physical aspect of it," Salley said. "It's about getting in great shape and just knowing that you've been through it. It's kind of an initiation for the young guys, and us older guys are kind of bringing them up. Showing them what the hard workout is all about so that when we're in a tight game late in the year, we been through those 6 a.m's, we've been through the summer camp, we've been through all that hard work and we deserve this. So, knowing that we worked harder than anybody else, that's one thing having that in your head that you worked harder than anybody else and you deserve a championship more than anyone else."

Salley says the team has welcomed Smith back.

"We've had some issues with guys getting into some little things and we've just got to learn from it," he said. "Nobody is perfect, everybody makes those little mistakes. Sometimes you can get kind of caught up in it. So, we've just got to learn, learn from the mistakes.

"But Troy, he is still our guy. Any other guy that has been in trouble is still our guy. We're not going to kick them to the side or whatever because he got in trouble one time. We've got to keep guys closer and keep this team closer together."

Salley says the team is ready to move on from all the off-the-field distractions.

"Yeah, most definitely," he said. "That's the main thing. Whenever you go through something like that, you've got to try and move on. Even when we found out about Troy and we went down to Texas, we knew we had to get a job done still. And that would be one thing that would make him happier and all the Buckeye fans happy, you know, for us to win that game and the fashion in which we did. I think we kind of set the tone for this year coming up."

Salley is entering his fourth year and admits he is feeling like an old veteran.

"Yeah man, it's crazy," he said. "Time flies, it feels like I just got here. It's crazy, but it's a blessing. I'm grateful to be here, everything is going pretty well, we've just got to keep pushing."

There will be an abundance of depth in OSU's secondary this season and Salley is excited about it.

"Yeah, we've got a lot of guys coming back," he said. "Most everyone has big game experience and I believe that will be a big thing for us. I believe the DB's is going to be huge thing for us. I believe we're going to be great. Although we lost Coach Tucker, we've got to pick up that slack and be leaders and just keep pushing."

Salley will miss working with Tucker.

"Yeah, Coach Tuck, I was extremely close to him," he said. "He was like a father-figure to me. Me being from Florida, anytime I was going through anything, I could always come to him and he always gave me great advice and I am just grateful that I had him as my coach for three years."

But, at the same time, Salley is happy to see Tucker move up in the world. And who knows, maybe Salley will play for him again one day.

"Yeah, exactly," Salley said. "I'm happy for him, getting a pay raise, help his family out a little more. And he's going back closer to his home in Cleveland. You can't help but be happy for him. When you get that close to a guy and something good happens for him, you can't be mad at him for making a decision like that.

"And I believe he left us with a great foundation. He started us off right and we know what it takes now. So, I believe this was a great year for him to leave because he left guys like myself, and B.Mitch, Ty (Everett) and Donte (Whitner), he left guys like us back here, so he knows he left everything OK back here at Ohio State and I think that's why he was even more comfortable moving on."

Salley will likely start at one safety position this fall, but who will be his running mate? Will it be Whitner?

"I don't know man," Salley said. "It's up in the air and it's been that way since I've been here. Everybody is just battling for jobs. So, I'm not sure, but it's good to know that you've got five or six guys back there who are capable of being starters and just knowing that we've got that kind of depth is really good."

And whoever does not start at safety will be in the running for the nickelback job.

"Yeah, most likely," Salley said. "That's how it's been going since we've been here, so I don't think that will change now. The coaches are going to try and get the four or five best guys on the field and they're going to try and get that done no matter what's the situation."

Like Holmes, Salley is trying not to look ahead to the Texas game in week two.

"We're trying not to look at that too much because we've got Miami of Ohio first," he said. "So, we've got to focus on each game because it would be something to look forward to Texas, then lose to Miami of Ohio and everything is kind of down the drains."

But, just like the fans, the players like the fact that the game will be played at night.

"Oh yeah, night games are great," Salley said. "I love night games. It kind of takes you back to high school being under those lights. Kind of gives you a whole new energy. It's great."

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