This year, the 6-5, 305-pound Downing is looking to stay consistent all season. He wants to build off the impressive performances he had against Michigan and Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl to close the 2004 season.
"I want to play my game and just do whatever it takes to help this offense move the ball and win football games," Downing said.
The Buckeyes are expected to pass more this season, but the running game will always be the heart and soul of the offense.
"For us this year it's going to be huge, because the running game sets up the pass," Downing said. "We've got a lot of guys out there at the receiver position who can make big plays. But that is only going to happen if we're able to put the ball on the ground and pick up yards and take some pressure off."
Like most of his teammates, Downing is already talking about making a run at the national championship.
"I think the potential is huge," he said. "If we stay focused and disciplined, I think we can go and do some big things. We can run the table and stay undefeated and if we do that, we'll go where we want to go, which is out to Pasadena."
Downing said he put on about 15 pounds during the offseason.
"Yeah, I put on a little bit," he said. "I was down to about 290, I'm up to about 305 pounds now. Definitely the offseason I got to do a lot of work in the weight room." Downing has come a long way in the weight room since his freshman season of 2002. "I came in at about 275 pounds," he said. "So, all in all I've put on a solid 25, 30 pounds of muscle since I've been here."
Everything came together for Downing at the end of 2004 and he thinks he knows why.
"Just my attitude and my mindset," he said. "I had high expectations going into the season last year thinking I was going to be a starter, but that didn't work out. I got my positions switched. Some people can take that wrong. Their minds might shut down and they start feeling sorry for themselves. I kind of just took the attitude that I am good enough to be on this line and it made me work that much harder."
Downing played left and right guard last year, but is lining up strictly on the right side this season. However, he says the two positions aren't much different.
"No, not at all," he said. "You flip your plays back and forth. It takes a little bit of intelligence – offensive line we always get the bad rap of being dumb – but you just flip back and forth and it's not hard at all."
Downing thinks the Buckeyes could go 10 deep on the O-line.
"Yeah, we have a lot of guys," he said. "We've been able to run four offensive lines in camp so far this year and that's going to help us out a lot. Because banging in there in the trenches, it can get difficult. You can get hurt very easily. And if something – God, hope it doesn't – but if something would happen, we would have good replacements."
Downing was asked if any freshmen have impressed him, either offensively or defensively.
"I tell you what, Jim Cordle has really impressed me," he said. "Especially when he came in last spring. He came in here, should of still been in high school, he came out here and he banged with some guys that are 21, 22 years old and I was impressed by that."
Downing was buried on the depth chart his first two years in the program when he had some naggings injuries. But he fought through it and now finds himself as a starter.
"Just my mentality in general," he said of the perseverance. "I'm always thinking that I can go out there and contribute something to the team. And when I step out there on the field – you got to look at the guy across from you as there's no way he's going to beat you and you're going to do anything that you have inside of you to stop that from happening. Injuries will slow you down from doing that. If you're planning to go out there and play as hard as you can, you've got to be healthy. So, just having that mentality on the field that nobody is going to stop you is where you've got to be at."
Downing was asked to name the strength of the offensive line as a unit.
"As far as the offensive line goes, I feel like we can really get out there and run," he said. "We've had the rap in the past as big guys who can't move. I think we will really be able to get out there and set some screens, get downfield, run some reverses. Just all in all being able to move around and set blocks. We've got guys that when they get the ball, all they need is one or two guys to block and they're taking it to the house."
Downing's father – Walter Downing – was an All-American lineman at Michigan. He also won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers.
It was a good piece of recruiting by OSU to "steal" T.J. Downing away from Michigan. Yes, he was raised in Ohio – and he's a graduate of OSU-pipeline Canton GlenOak High School – but it's hard to lose the feelings for your favorite boyhood team. Especially when your father played there. Just ask Justin Boren.
"Yeah, Ohio State pressed the issue a lot harder for me to come here," Downing said. "I was planning on going to a Michigan camp and some things fell through and it was kind of like they forgot about me and they were just expecting me to follow my dad and go up there. But, when somebody presses the issue and shows you more love in a situation, that's where you're going to want to go. You always want to feel accepted and wanted. Ohio State just felt like the right fit for me and I was definitely right."
Downing doesn't really follow recruiting, but he did pay attention to the Boren situation. If anyone could relate, it was Downing.
"Yeah, I've heard about it," he said. "I think wherever you feel more comfortable at, I think a guy has to look at the depth situation wherever he's going. A lot of guys want to come in and provide early for their team. We do have a lot of young linemen here, maybe that's a reason he swayed to go up there. And I think following in his dad's footsteps, he'll enjoy that."
And Downing was a lot like Boren growing up. It wasn't just that his dad played at Michigan. The younger Downing was a diehard UM fan.
"Oh yeah. I can understand where (Boren is) coming from, because I don't think I watched the Buckeyes until maybe my junior or senior year of high school," Downing said. "When they really started to become heavy in the recruiting process, I would follow them. But I was always up in Ann Arbor on Saturdays with my dad. We'd go up there and watch games and I would always know what their lineups were. They were my favorite team. But all in all, when it came down to it, it was a decision that I had to make and nobody else was going to make. I had to think about it – it wasn't easy."
Just what did Walter Downing think of T.J. having the best game of his career against Michigan?
"It was cool because Pops knew going into the game that I was going to be starting in it, it was at the Horseshoe and it's always kind of been a family rivalry," T.J. said. "But, you know, ever since I came here I've been seeing more and more Ohio State gear coming into the house, wearing all scarlet and gray. He really enjoyed seeing us perform well and do good in that game and I know he was very proud of me and I was very happy to be able to go out there and represent our name, the Downing name."
Downing is a well-spoken, nice guy off the field. But between the lines, he plays with a nasty streak. He likes nothing more than finishing blocks.
"That's how you have to play," he said. "I do describe it as, not nasty, but just the attitude. Because when you've got a guy lining up across from you that wants to be in your backfield, wants to make the tackle, you've got to do whatever you have to stop him and win that game. And the attitude that's going to carry you through the intensity to kill that guy across from you. To punish him. To drive him into the ground. The tenacity. That's what you've got to have on the offensive line and if you're going to come out here and act soft about it and think it's just easy out there, it's not. It's tough. You've got to be a hard player. You've got to be a nasty person."
If Downing keeps it up, he and that nasty streak will be playing on Sundays eventually.