Carpenter: To Play Or Not To Play?

After suffering a broken leg in the final regular season game against Michigan, it appeared Bobby Carpenter's career in a Buckeye uniform might be over. However, Carpenter may find that he has recovered well enough to play against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Will he or won't he? We may not find out until game time, but it has been a popular topic of discussion in the desert.

For six weeks, Ohio State fans, coaches and players have been not-so-impatiently awaiting the verdict. Will Bobby Carpenter play in the Fiesta Bowl? Will he be able to take the field for his last game in the Scarlet and Gray?

With time running out and Carpenter not able to do that just yet; what will the answer be?

You can take it to the bank -- he is a definite maybe for the Fiesta Bowl this coming Tuesday in Tempe.

He is a maybe because until the doctors examine his leg in closer detail, all of his jogging and running and even campaigning will come to no avail. Even the highly reported ‘Bobby Carpenter in drills' sightings mean little to nothing; it's the X-rays and medical personnel who will ultimately make the decision.

Fellow Buckeye linebacker A.J. Hawk said, "Do I expect him to play? I know he wants to play. It all depends on how his legs heal. Obviously he is not going to do further damage for the rest of his life, but if I was a doctor I would have a better idea. He says he feels alright. If you talk to us Friday or Saturday we will probably know a lot more."

Carpenter did participate to a limited degree in practice on Wednesday. Asked about his status defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said he was running and when asked if Carpenter was full go for the game jested, "He was jogging. So, I guess he is jogging full go."

The response drew a laugh from reporters, but when it comes right down to it this is serious stuff for Ohio State.

Just how big would it be for the Buckeyes if Carpenter cannot go? Losing the player who led the Big Ten in sacks isn't an everyday event. However, you would almost think it was mundane listening to players and coaches in Wednesday's interviews. With both sidelines trying to win a backyard game of ‘I can be more polite than you', it's tough to really gauge their true feelings.

It was almost refreshing when Notre Dame starting quarterback Brady Quinn admitted the magnitude of Carpenter's injury and its status as the elephant in the room by saying without hesitation, "It makes a big difference in their style of defense. Their scheme changes a lot. They have a freshman behind him. I'm not saying they don't want to put a freshman in, but you want a lot of experience on the field for a big game like this. Obviously Carpenter is a great player. He is someone who has a big impact on the game. You see him putting his hand on the ground rushing, whether he is blitzing, or whether he is out in coverage – there are a lot of different things he does that makes their defense potent. In this game, I think it does matter a lot if he plays."

Pressed by reporters, Hawk admitted this is not small potatoes despite the brave face by Carpenter and his teammates.

"Of course we want him to play," Hawk said. "He's an unbelievable player. A guy like that who can put his hand down and come off the edge and stand up and be in pass coverage and do things like that you need him. We obviously want him back, but we know if we don't we have other guys can do it as well."

But what is at stake though is more than just a game. A second break in the same spot could potentially create all sorts of problems healing – not to mention cost Carpenter millions of dollars if the NFL backs off.

"If he can't run around and do stuff, I wouldn't want him to play," said Anthony Schlegel. "I mean, he has a future and we all know that. If he wouldn't be able to do that it would be selfish of us to want him to (play)."

In the meantime, the two teams must prepare for this coming Tuesday. Notre Dame will prepare with the assumption Carpenter plays; Ohio State will prepare with the assumption he will not play.

Anthony Fasano understands the inherent warrior code in football and commented, "Carpenter is a great player, and he is very versatile for them. He plays a lot of different positions. I think it definitely would be a loss for them if he didn't play, but being a player – and the player that he is – we expect him to play."

On the far sideline, Buckeye defensive coordinator Jim Heacock's philosophy is the opposite extreme.

"The only thing can do is prepare for not having him," Heacock said. "We can't prepare like we are going to have him. If he can play that certainly would be a boost. It would be a big bonus."

The normally loquacious Schlegel summed it up: "I'm expecting if Bobby can go out there and play well and play like he is capable of playing, he will play. There's no doubt."

If Carpenter cannot take the field, both teams have a good idea of what the Buckeyes will do in his absence.

Notre Dame's offensive coordinator Michael Haywood believes the Buckeyes have a couple of options.

"They can either stay in their 4-3 package or they can bring in their nickel package with 32 (Brandon Mitchell) and send 9 (Donte Whitner) down as the ‘sam' or ‘will' backer," Haywood said. "It really doesn't pose a problem for us which way they go because we prepare for it all."

Kudla confirms the suspicions of the Notre Dame coaches, saying, "I'll drop back and play more stand up like he did, and we will bring in some other guys to rush. That's our flex. It will be the same thing we did against Michigan."

Finally, don't expect Thursday or Friday to be the final word in this saga. Three more days may not seem like much healing time to the average Joe, and it's not. However, the young men who play college football are anything but physically average. Genetic freaks might be a better way to describe their physique.

It could even be a game time decision, according to head coach Jim Tressel.

"We've said all along, if there is a medical issue then our medical people will not release him to play," Tressel said. "As much as that would disappoint he and us, that's the way it would be. If the medical people release him to do what he feels like he can do, now the counseling starts. You have to tell us for sure how you feel. You can't just tell us and say 'I'm ok' and you're really not."

He elaborated, "Once they let him back in to let him run around a little bit, then how does he feel? As time goes on you will know just how much – whether it is 10 plays, 20 plays, or if it's 50."

So there you have it. No matter what you hear today, tomorrow or even Monday – the not so final word is Carpenter will remain a definite maybe until kickoff and maybe even afterward.

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