Datish Becomes OSU's Center Of Attention

Fifth-year senior Doug Datish will get a chance to start at his third different position in three years as he moves from tackle to center when top-ranked Ohio State begins preseason practice on Monday. Click here for more on Datish's transition to the all-important center position.

The Ohio State coaching staff seems to have the utmost confidence that jack-of-all-trades offensive lineman Doug Datish will be able to handle the center spot.

Datish, a 6-5, 295-pound senior, started at guard as a sophomore in 2004 and at tackle last year as a junior. With the graduation of three-year starter Nick Mangold at center, Datish became the staff's choice to fill that key role.

"In our scheme, the center is so important," OSU coach Jim Tressel said. "You go from LeCharles Bentley to Alex Stepanovich to Nick Mangold, that will tell you where Jim Bollman puts an emphasis on the offensive line. Doug Datish is the guy now. He's in control up there. He is a third-year starter and he is moving into an important role and as a leader in a lot of ways."

Datish, for his part, is hardly batting an eye over starting at his third different position in three years.

"I don't think it's going to be much different," he said. "The responsibilities change when you become older and you have that weight on your shoulders to carry on the tradition. You feel that tradition pulling on you a little bit.

"But changing to center? It's not really that big of a deal. I've been Nick's backup the last three years. I was less comfortable at left tackle last year than I am at center."

Of course, every play begins with a snap. Mangold's bad snaps were few and far between, so Datish knows he has a high standard to maintain. That's why he has worked hard to build a relationship with returning quarterback Troy Smith.

"It's huge because if you don't have the snap, you don't have the play," Datish said. "And, also, sometimes he is motioning back there if we're in the shotgun. We have to know each other well enough that if I see that clock running down, that he will have that confidence that I will snap it and I don't need to see his signal. I want him to have confidence in me as well that I am going to make the right line call when he makes that play call."

Datish's transition from tackle to center is even more intriguing because he missed spring practice as he recovered from a shoulder injury.

"I probably could have come in at the end of spring," Datish said. "But the coaches said, ‘You've been here long enough and we don't need to see what you can do. Just get your shoulder better.' It's been 100 percent for a while and I don't even feel like anything happened to it now.

When the season opens Sept. 2 against Northern Illinois, Datish will not be making his first career start at center. He actually started there once before – at Michigan State in 2004, when Mangold was inexplicably held out of the lineup.

"I was Nick's backup for three years," Datish said. "I haven't missed center that much. I have probably played it more than I had played left tackle, where I was last year. I'm not that worried about it."

Right guard T.J. Downing, also a senior, sees Datish making a seamless transition to the center spot.

"I think he's doing a great job," Downing said. "He has always been in Nick's ear the last two or three years. He's very intelligent. I think he'll do fine. I think he can be just as good as Nick.

"He would always ask Nick, ‘Why are you making this call? If the safety is walking down, what would you do?' Let's face it, Nick was the best. I think he was the best center in the country last year. When you're in a guy's ear like that, it can only make you better.

"I think Doug has all the tools to do it. I am excited to see what he can do. I am excited to play next to him and hopefully get a couple combo blocks on those big nose guards and move them around a little bit."

Datish, the son of former OSU offensive lineman Mike Datish, is the team's most experienced returner on the offensive line with 26 games played and 22 starts.

"Any time you're diverse, it makes you a better player," Datish said. "If you get pidgeonholed into one spot, that gives you less opportunities to play. A couple of years ago, Coach Bollman said, ‘I want you to be able play everywhere.' It was horrible for the first spring because I was playing some at all five spots. But now it's like every spot is the same for me."

Datish thinks moving to center will prove easier than moving to tackle was for him a year ago.

"It was hard playing against great players every week," he said. "But it wasn't that hard because of the way Coach Bollman teaches the offensive line play. I would have bet you a million dollars that I would have never started a game at left tackle when I first got here. But I did it, so now I'm happy I did it."

After a sluggish start in 2005, the Ohio State offense became a juggernaut in helping the team win its last seven games.

"I think it was a turning point for the whole offense last year," Datish said. "We became confident in one another and we just came together and were able to play. If you can just play, that's all you need to do."

Datish, Downing, junior right tackle Kirk Barton and sophomore left tackle Alex Boone all seem to be set. Datish believes there will be plenty of competition for the open job at guard.

"We're fortunate to have some young guys who aren't as young any more," he said. "Now they can get out there and plug in with us. To replace guys like Nick and Rob, that's always going to be difficult. But the line is going to have a different persona this year. We hope we can be as successful as we were late in the year.

"I'm excited to play with these guys. We have some bigger guys coming back. It will be either Jon Skinner, Tim Schafer or Steve Rehring at that left guard spot. I think whoever it will be we should be fine."

Datish said it was neat to see the offense come together last year.

"The thing we do best is we utilize the weapons that we have," he said. "We do the things that suit us best. That's what I like. You can't put a square peg into a round hole.

"We have tons of weapons. We have Ted (Ginn Jr.) and we have Gonzo (Anthony Gonzalez). Any time we have those certain play calls and we know Ted is open, it's exciting. Blocking for Pitt (Antonio Pittman) was an honor last year and throwing two more backs in that mix should be great. It should be a fun year for us."

Datish and the line take pride in helping Pittman become OSU's first 1,000-yard rusher in three years – even if it took him seven games to find the end zone.

"That was weird how he hadn't scored a touchdown at midseason," Datish said. "We were sitting in the meeting room that week before the Minnesota game and we were like, ‘Pitt hasn't scored a touchdown. Let's get him in there for sure.' But he's a great player. He's a lot stronger than people give him credit for. I think it's a credit to our strength and conditioning staff."

The OSU upperclassmen spent the summer getting used to a new strength and conditioning coach as Eric Lichter replaced Allan Johnson.

"This summer was a little bit different," he said. "It was a lot more intense and a lot harder. It's definitely been a struggle, but I think it will be beneficial for us later on."

The Buckeyes open fall camp Monday as the media's pick to win the Big Ten as well as the No. 1 team in the USA Today coaches poll.

"It's a paper ranking," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're first or 11th. Everybody has a shot. On that same note, we know everybody will be gunning for us like we gun for everybody else.

"I think it says a lot about our coaching staff and their recruiting ability to be able to plug in guys. We've had to reload our defense two different times and, all of a sudden, there they are third or first in the country again. To be honest, I'm not too worried about it. I have seen these guys practice and they're going to be good."


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