Tressel Tackles Several Issues

Ohio State opens spring practice Thursday and head coach Jim Tressel met with the media Tuesday to preview the 2005 Buckeyes. He discussed injuries, suspensions, position battles and much more.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel previewed spring practice on Tuesday.

First up, he addressed situations involving players that are currently not with the team, players that recently returned to the team, and players that are nursing injuries this spring.

Senior cornerback E.J. Underwood was suspended for the Alamo Bowl and has not been with the team since.

"E.J. won't be working with us this (spring) from an athletic standpoint," Tressel said. "He'll be focusing on the academic end of things."

But Tressel added that there is a chance Underwood will play for the Buckeyes this fall.

When asked if Underwood's eventual return was likely, Tressel said: "I don't know."

Sophomore defensive tackle Brandon Maupin and freshman wide receiver Albert Dukes were not enrolled at OSU over the winter, but both have returned to the team and will participate in spring drills.

Junior quarterback Troy Smith will be suspended for one more game (Miami). He must pay restitution for the money he received from a booster and will then be reinstated.

"That is in-step with case precedent," Tressel said.

Smith will take part in spring drills and preseason camp.

On the injury front, Mike D'Andrea, Tyler Everett, Devon Lyons, Anthony Schlegel, and Jon Skinner will all start spring with limited activity and will probably be held out of full contact drills. They will all have a "gradual return" to live drills.

Mike Kudla, Brandon Underwood, John Kerr, Devin Jordan, Rob Harley and Jordan Hoewischer will definitely be held out of full contact drills this spring.

Over the last month, Ohio State coaches visited spring practices at LSU, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati.

"We wanted some chances just to study," Tressel said. "The progression of the game is ever-changing. Things conceptual move forward all the time. A lot of our guys had a chance to go various places and watch some spring practices and come back with some thoughts, come back with some ideas based upon who we think we are.

"So, as we begin spring practice on Thursday, it will really be twofold. One, obviously you have to go back to the fundamentals. You have to assert yourself with playing the game low, playing it fast, playing with a lot of toughness and velocity.

"And also, find out what best suits your guys. So, we will do that when we begin Thursday. We'll go to work on those fundamental things, and we'll go to work on perhaps some of the new twists and so forth."

Ohio State's coaches have also spent a lot of time figuring out what the Buckeyes do well, and what they don't do very well.

"In February and March, our coaches not only have a chance to go visit other people, but we do an intense study of ourselves," Tressel said. "Where we've got to get better in certain areas. What was good for us; what wasn't good for us. So, we'll have a chance to put all that study together on Thursday and get to work on the fundamentals and changes and all the things you do during spring practice."

Tressel then went position-by-position, breaking down the 2005 Buckeyes.

He started on the offensive line.

"We have a good nucleus of leaders back with Nick Mangold and Robbie Sims," Tressel said. "I thought they did a good job of getting some young guys involved. The Kirk Barton's of the world, and T.J. Downing, and Steve Rehring and so forth. I think we have a group of eight or nine guys that really have a chance to build a heck of an offensive trench group.

"You have Ben Person, Kyle Mitchum and Jon Skinner, who also have Jimmy Cordle with them – another young guy. I think from an offensive line standpoint, there will be a lot of competition and a lot of growth happen."

Good experience also returns at tight end.

"Ryan Hamby missed a little bit of time during the 6 a.m. workouts from a health standpoint," Tressel said. "But he's back working full speed and is ready to go. Rory Nicol and Marcel Frost and R.J. Coleman, we think are going to give us the chance to have excellent tight ends."

Then the coach gave an overview of his explosive wide receiver corps.

"Santonio Holmes is back and he brings back with him Tony Gonzalez, Roy Hall, Teddy Ginn and Albert Dukes and some of those young guys that have a chance to step in and give us a lot of speed and big play ability out wide," Tressel said. "And when you're solid in the trenches and have a chance to make big plays out wide, I think you have a chance to have an explosive group. I think that's going to be a good group. (Receivers coach Darrell) Hazell was getting after them this morning and I have a lot of optimism about that group out wide."

Depth at tailback will be a concern all spring and into the 2005 season for the Buckeyes. But at least there is a lot of experience and depth at fullback.

"In the backfield, starting with the veteran fullbacks, Brandon Schnittker is back for a fifth year, Stan White is back for a fourth year, Dionte Johnson is back for a second year, having played a lot," Tressel said. "So, I think that group is probably going to have a little more experience than we've had in some time there and I feel good about their versatility. All of those guys are decent receivers, as well as solid blockers.

"And of course right behind them at the tailback position, that's probably where we have the least experience. Last year we had four or five guys back that were seniors who had been here a long time. Now you're talking about a young group that haven't been here real long and haven't played a whole bunch.

"Antonio Pittman and Erik Haw are obviously the two guys that we have talked most about. I think they had good winters. Their numbers in the weight room I think have come along and we feel good about them. But obviously it's not a large number of guys and we're going to have to get a lot of good work out of them. They will get some help from a couple of walk-ons, but they are going to have to be warriors back there. So, it will be good for them this spring to get a lot of responsibility and a lot of opportunity."

The quarterback situation will be interesting to monitor all season. Junior Justin Zwick will likely open the season as the starter and will be pushed by freshman Todd Boeckman. But when Smith is eligible to play, what will happen with him?

Tressel, who works closer with the quarterbacks than any other position, broke down the QB situation.

"Obviously as we go into game one, Justin Zwick and Todd Boeckman will be the guys that you'll prepare," he said. "As we go into the spring, the way we'll start working our guys at quarterback will be two-thirds of the time, Justin will be working with the first group. About a third of the time, Troy will be working with the first group. Two-thirds of the time Troy will be working with the second group, and one-third of the time Todd Boeckman will work with the second group. Then with the third group, two-thirds of the time Todd will be working with the third group, and Justin one-third of the time. And that's the way we'll begin. You have to have a beginning point and you never know how repetitions will turn out."

Defensively, the 2004 Buckeyes were young. But with nine starters returning this year, Ohio State has the makings of a very stout defense.

"On the defensive line, we have Mike Kudla and Marcus Green, two veteran guys and they'll bring excellent leadership," Tressel said. "They've had a chance to play a great deal. Joel Penton is a veteran coming back, obviously Quinn Pitcock is coming back, and Jay Richardson. That group will have a chance to continue to evolve and I know (defensive line coach) Jim Heacock is excited about that group."

The Buckeyes also boast arguably the best linebackers in the country.

"Anthony Schlegel, Mike D'Andrea, Bobby Carpenter and A.J. Hawk, that group has played a lot of football," Tressel said. "Marcus Freeman, Chad Hoobler and Curtis Terry came in and I think are learning it well. That gives us a chance to have a great linebacker corps."

Tressel also seems very optimistic about the secondary.

"We have a new coach, Paul Haynes," Tressel said. "Paul has done a nice job of picking up where Mel Tucker left off. I think he's got a good group coming back.

"You start on the inside of that group (safeties) with Nate Salley. Tyler Everett, Donte Whitner and Brandon Mitchell have had a lot of playing time. Curt Lukens has moved to that safety group and I think he'll have an opportunity. I think Nick Patterson, young guys like that, have shown a lot of promise.

"Over on the corners, Ashton Youboty obviously returns with a lot of playing time. And then we have a lot less playing time returning. The experience-level of our cornerbacks is something that we need to gain a great deal of experience this particular spring. Sirjo Welch is a guy that we think has a lot of promise. Brandon Underwood has a lot of promise, but he's out with the shoulder, so he'll miss some time there. Shaun Lane has shown he can do some good things. We may even, depending on when Tyler Everett gets back, he might even spend some time at corner because we think he has some of those things that a corner needs to have. Donte Whitner is a guy that has played mostly safety, could play some corner.

"That group of guys has a chance to continue to grow and be a hard-hitting secondary. If I had to pick one thing that there was an excellent evolution as I watched from the defensive side – and I don't spend much time in those rooms with the defensive coaches and players – but I really thought there was an evolution in the way that our defensive backs put hits on people and just came to the ball. Sure there were some passes completed, but there were some people that were struck pretty good when they completed some passes. I think this group has a chance to continue that and we are going to be pretty good there in the backend."

Tressel's teams usually have excellent special teams, and 2005 should be no different, even with the loss of All-American kicker Mike Nugent.

"If you want to win the championship, you better have special teams," Tressel said. "We've been very, very fortunate the last few years to have some extraordinary performances from our special teams. I think our punt has been as consistently good as any punt unit in the nation.

"I think we've graduated Kyle Turano. I know he has an appeal in to the NCAA to get a sixth year, I don't know what the chances are, but we're not counting on it, but it would be a bonus.

"We feel very good though with A.J. Trapasso and Tyson Gentry. They've shown a lot in what they've done and we feel they can pick up where our many great punters have left off these last few years.

"It will start through with those guys snapping to them. We lose a great snapper in Kyle Andrews. But the long-snapping situation right now, Drew Norman, Dimitrios Makridis, Matt Drummelsmith are three guys that we have a lot of confidence in. We think they can step up and have the consistency that we need."

Tressel then address the placekicking situation.

"Josh Huston has appealed to the NCAA (for a sixth season), have not got word back," he said. "He was told in mid-March it would be about 3-4 weeks that he would know for sure, so hopefully it's any moment. We're optimistic, just based upon precedent. But again, you have to wait for the final verdict.

"I think Josh Huston is an outstanding kicker and could be a great one. So, we're hoping he gets that appeal and has that opportunity.

"He's going to have to break in new holders. Right now, Tyson Gentry and A.J. Trapasso would be ranked number one and two. So, we feel good about that group of specialists, along with our returners, and the commitment we have with punt blocks, punt returns, kickoff coverage, kickoff returns and all of those things. But you're not going to win a championship unless you have great special units and we're looking forward to seeing what those guys can do."

Tressel added that Ginn and Holmes will be the primary punt and kick returners.

The 2005 Bucks look loaded on paper. They will likely begin the season ranked in the top 10, possibly the top five.

Tressel was asked if it would be outlandish to consider OSU having the best team in the country this season.

"I don't think so at all," he said. "I think we have talented guys, we have bright guys, we have experienced guys. We have guys that I think understand what it takes to be a champion."

The coach was also asked what he likes about Pittman and Haw, and what they need to work on.

"They need experience," Tressel said. "We need to know who can hang in there and take the pounding, because not many positions get pounded like the running backs.

"What do I like about them? I think their size and strength. I was really impressed with their numbers from this spring. Their squat numbers and their long and broad jump and that type of thing. I was really impressed with their raw abilities and I've been impressed with the way they've carried the ball, the little bit they've had a chance to do that. Now, are they going to be able to handle the load? And for me, it starts in the spring."

Tressel does not try and sugarcoat the fact that OSU has a serious depth problem at tailback.

"Yes, it's a concern," he said. "We would love to have more numbers at the tailback spot. We don't, and so we'll adjust accordingly. Our wide receivers like that because they perceive that we'll be out here with four, five wides. So, but we'll be fine."

Tressel was also asked about getting the explosive Ginn the ball more often.

"Early last season, Ted Ginn was a novice playing a new position," he said. "And you could see the increase in understanding and once you understand what is being asked of you, now all of a sudden your physical abilities take over. He's got extraordinary physical abilities. I'd like for him to touch it a lot, I'd like for Santonio to touch it a lot. Then I'll get the questions, ‘How come we're not throwing to the tight ends?' So, I want the tight ends to touch it a lot. And we need to be able to run the ball. I love it when the quarterback has no one open and he steps up and runs. But, I think you better go into the game hoping that Teddy and Santonio have a chance to make big plays for you, then see how it evolves from there."

Some have speculated that Ginn will play a lot of cornerback this season, in addition to receiver. But Tressel says he only expects Ginn to get spot duty defensively in the spring.

"He is strictly offense for the moment," Tressel said. "I think I mentioned this back in February: There was an evolution to how Chris (Gamble) did that. Chris started playing a little bit down by the goal line when we had some injuries. Then we moved it out to the red zone and that type of thing. And then it expanded into being a full-time corner. I do not anticipate that with Ted Ginn. That evolution. There could be an evolution based upon injuries and so forth, but I do not anticipate that."

Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is being considered for the head coaching position at Marshall. Tressel actually put a call in to Marshall on Snyder's behalf.

"When the Marshall job became vacant, the first thing I thought of was that Mark Snyder is the perfect guy," Tressel said. "Graduated from there, his hometown is across the bridge, he's an excellent coach. And that's what you come here for as an assistant coach to maybe have that dream of being a head coach sometime. So, immediately I placed a call, just like Earle Bruce placed one to Youngstown State for me.

"It's a little bit of a strange time. We've been given the impression that next week sometime they should have things down as to what they are going to do. I think it would be a great opportunity for him. I hope that it doesn't happen for Ohio State's sake, but the individual's sake is still what's most important. He's worked 16 or 17 years as an assistant coach and I think he would be a great choice."

Tressel also mentioned that the Buckeyes are excelling in the classroom. Forty-nine players had over a 3.0 GPA for winter quarter. Also, a record 44 players have qualified for the scholar-athlete banquet, meaning they've had above a 3.0 cumulative GPA for the past academic year.


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