Gonzalez Takes Stock Of Receivers, Offense

OSU sophomore wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez shared his thoughts recently on preseason camp, the jersey scrimmage, his fellow receivers, the OSU offense and some of the team's top up-and-coming players. He shares a ton of good insight here.

One of the most exciting players who developed for Ohio State late last season was wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, a Cleveland St. Ignatius product, caught a 68-yard touchdown pass in OSU's upset of Michigan. Then, he made a nice diving grab for a 23-yard touchdown catch against Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. Both catches staked OSU to a 7-0 lead and started the Buckeyes on their way toward huge wins.

Those two grabs were among eight receptions the 6-0, 195-pound Gonzalez made last year. Earlier this week, he talked about when things started to click for him during his redshirt freshman year.

"There was a light bulb moment," Gonzalez said. "My biggest problem with everything is that my mind always gets in the way. I did have a light bulb moment when I met with Coach Tressel and I asked him – we had lost a few games – and I said, ‘Coach, what do I have to do to get on this football field? I feel like I can contribute.' And he just sat me down and was real with me.

"He said, ‘You have to give better effort; you have to play faster; you have to block better.' And the light bulb went on and I said, ‘OK, that's exactly what I'm going to do.' And so, the rest of the season, I just tried to make sure I focused on those areas that he had pinpointed."

Gonzalez elevated his game to the point where OSU fans lapped him in with standouts Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr. as true receiving threats on this team. Add Roy Hall, Devon Lyons and Albert Dukes to the group and the Buckeyes have a deep and talented receiving corps. Some think it may be the best in the country.

"Well, hopefully we will justify all the praise that has been heaped upon us," he said. "I feel like we will. It is truly and honor to play alongside the people that we have. Santonio Holmes is so talented and Teddy (Ginn) as you all know is so talented. Then Roy (Hall) and I get our licks in when we can.

"It really is an honor to be a part of this receiving corps because I feel if we perform how we can, it's going to be one of those things where 10 years from now, you ask a group of receivers, ‘Well, how to you feel you compare to the 2005 bunch?' It's an honor to be a part of what hopefully will be that sort of thing."

Playing alongside such talented receivers drives Gonzalez to work harder at his game.

"We do have a lot of weapons," he said. "We have Santonio and Ted and they are incredible football players. That's just outstanding to have guys like that out there on the outside. That should free up some things on the inside, hopefully. It should be a fun season.

"It's great to have players like that around because it pushes me to elevate my game as high as possible. We're a pretty close knit group. After last year, we went through some tough times as a team and a unit. I would call all of the guys in the receiver group friends of mine."

Gonzalez discussed his off-season regimen.

"I've actually tried to slim down a little bit, maybe unsuccessfully," he said. "I didn't really try to slim down, I tried to lean down. And I have gotten a little more lean and that's just part of preparing for a 12-game season, 13-game season."

Now the Buckeyes are in the throes of preseason camp, working twice a day every other day.

"These are the dog days," he said. "These are the days when you've just got to be tough and suck it up. You wake up sore, you sit down sore, you sleep sore, you tie your shoes sore, write your name sore. So, everything is sore. It's about mental toughness just as much as physical toughness.

"People like to say two-a-days are a mental thing. I like to say they are a physical thing. You're practicing twice a day in pads with full heat and you're trying to kill each other. That is tough on you physically and mentally because you're friends with these guys you're trying to kill. It's a mental battle, but for me it's more of a physical thing."

On Saturday, the team will congregate in Ohio Stadium for the preseason jersey scrimmage. Gonzalez discussed the priorities for that event.

"Well, the jersey scrimmage is a huge day for us," he said. "I'm really looking forward to that because the defense has been giving us some seriously good looks. I'm anxious to put it all together on that day and see if we can maybe get the best of them on that day and keep the scarlet jerseys, which look a lot nicer than the white ones.

"Winning is the big thing. And outside of that – and this goes into winning – not turning the ball over. Achieving our weekly game goals, in terms of third down conversions and first down yardage, run average, that sort of thing. We're just looking to progress as an offense and achieve the goals that we have every week."

Developing that offense into a strong force once again is the main goal, Gonzalez said.

"Obviously, that is the challenge – to make it so we can't be stopped," he said. "At this point, I wouldn't say that we're unstoppable. You have to be pretty good to be unstoppable. That's obviously the goal – to feel like we don't feel anybody can challenge us. That's the focus and kind of where we're headed."

Gonzalez discussed how the offense evolved late last year and how OSU's use of formations such as the "Shot-Ginn" confounded their opponents.

"I don't know if the whole offense changed necessarily," he said. "Structurally, it's a lot of the same things. It's still blocking and tackling, still running routes and still running the football. Guys started to mature. That's what happens when you have a young team.

"My brother (Joe) was a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State and he called me the first night after watching our films and said, `What on earth are you guys running?' It's difficult to prepare when you see things that no other team does. I'm sure people spent the better part of the spring and summer trying to figure out our offense.

"Whether they have or not, who knows? But the unpredictability, I think, works in our favor."

One big piece of the offense will be the quarterback. With Troy Smith out for the opener, Justin Zwick – bad ankle and all – is working toward making the start against Miami (Ohio).

"The quarterbacks have done real well," Gonzalez said. "Justin (Zwick) has been throwing the ball well, Todd (Boeckman) has been throwing the ball well and Troy (Smith) of course has been throwing the ball well. And Rob (Schoenhoft) has… Robbie can scramble so well. He's unbelievable at scrambling. He's been throwing the ball real well and has really impressed a lot of us. So, yeah, the quarterbacks have done extremely well."

Gonzalez elaborated on the differences of the quarterbacks.

"They're all different," he said. "That's for sure. They all bring their own unique thing to the table. Personality-wise, I would say Todd is this kind of laid back kind of guy. Justin is a little more serious. Troy is that scrambling quarterback who is in your face and that sort of thing. So, they're just uniquely different in their own ways. And Robbie is starting to show his personality a little bit, but it takes time as a freshman. You don't want to go out there ordering people around on your third day of camp."

And, while many believe Smith will be the savior when he is reinstated, Gonzalez said Zwick can handle the job.

"Justin is a good quarterback," he said. "He knows the system and he's comfortable in it and he runs it very well. He's had some critics and say what you will, but the kid obviously showed a lot of heart and competitive fire in that bowl game. Pulling your hamstring is not a fun thing. It's hard to play through that. That shows a lot of determination there.

"I don't know if Troy had been inserted at the beginning if it had been the same thing or anything like that. That's just speculation. A young team takes time to mature, like we certainly did. As you guys saw in the last two, maybe even three games, we started to come along."

Does it bother Gonzalez that there is still uncertainty regarding who will be OSU's starting QB this season?

"To me it doesn't, only because we have good quarterbacks," he said. "If we had one exceptional quarterback and three lousy quarterbacks, then I would be really worried. But since we don't, I feel that we have three very talented quarterbacks. So, for me, no, it doesn't bother me at all."

More Viewpoints

Reporters grilled Gonzalez on a wide variety of topics, including:

* The progress of the young defensive backs -- "The young DBs are doing well. Malcolm Jenkins and Jamario O'Neal have really impressed me personally. And Andre Amos has come along. They're doing a good job. But I would say Malcolm is extremely good, as is Jamario. Those are the two that have really shown me that they're serious players."

* Who leads the battle at the boundary corner -- "I think it will be Tyler (Everett). I'm not a defensive coach, so I don't know what goes on in their meetings and in the staff room, but at this point, I would say certainly Tyler."

* Significant changes to the defense under new coordinator Jim Heacock -- "I don't know if schematically it's different, but they're just masking what they're doing a lot and they're doing shifts and motions and all that sort of thing. The first few days, it was mind blowing some of the stuff they were doing. That's a very experienced unit back there and they can handle the rigors of putting in new things and disguising and what not. And they're playing fast, which is huge for defenses."

* On whether any of the young receivers stood out, such as Dukes or Lyons -- "Well, they have stood out from day one, in my opinion. And they continue to stand out. Devon has been hobbled a little bit with an injury to his ankle, so he's been out a little bit. But even hobbled he still flashes his talent and you know he's a talented guy when you watch him."

* On whether the Buckeyes have ran the 40-yard dash recently and if he thinks he is still a 4.3-second guy -- "We have not, but I believe so."

* And finally, his thoughts on the chances for this team -- "I feel this year we do have a good team that contend that can hopefully contend and win the Big Ten and the national championship. We'll see."

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Dave Biddle contributed to this article.

Check out the October edition of Bucknuts The Magazine for Charles Babb's profile on Anthony Gonzalez.

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