It's been a long road for linebacker Mike D'Andrea who has battled injuries throughout his OSU career. But now as a fifth-year senior, Tressel feels pretty good that D'Andrea will be able to help the team this season.
"Mike, it looks like he's going to be able to go along pretty well," Tressel said. "We were told today he's going to be able to practice at least once a day, which is all any of us are allowed to practice for the first five days. So, we're anxious to see if he can… he did a good job this summer, he and (strength coach) Eric Lichter, of keeping the pounding off his knee and making sure we didn't have the swelling and so forth and have any of those setbacks. So, I'm anxious to see him get out there and see what he can do."
D'Andrea will get a look at middle linebacker, but will likely play multiple spots.
"Yeah, that's where he will be some," Tressel said. "But he's a big, strong guy kind of like Bobby (Carpenter) that we think can do a lot of things."
Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in the preseason USA Today/Coaches Poll. Tressel would probably rather fly somewhat under the radar to begin the season (the 2002 national champions began the season ranked No. 12 in both major polls) but he doesn't mind the lofty ranking too much.
"I think you can't help but acknowledge it," he said. "It makes you appreciate the respect people have for Ohio State. It also reminds you that we haven't done anything in 2006 and there's a good bit expected, so we better get to work. I think it's exciting no matter where you are ranked and to be honest, I don't know where we were ranked the first five years here. I'm sure it wasn't one. But we just went to work and hopefully did the best we could."
One of the primary factors in the Buckeyes' No. 1 ranking is the return of senior quarterback Troy Smith. He is a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate and could go down as the best QB in Ohio State history with another strong year.
And while Smith has loads of physical talent, Tressel is most impressed with his leadership abilities.
"I think when you have your starting quarterback back, especially one with the personality of Troy… Troy cuts to the chase," Tressel said. "When they're done with things, he tells them sometimes the way us coaches would like to tell them, but we're maybe a little more sensitive. It's kind of neat to watch the way he has grabbed a hold of this football team and he's been doing it for some time and he's had some moments when he's had to relinquish the reigns if you will and then regain them and he's done a good job of that and it's fun to watch him lead."
Smith will obviously be one of the captains this year, along with senior defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock. But the other two spots appear to be open and there are plenty of seniors willing to take on the responsibility.
"I think 17 of them are fifth-year seniors, so a lot of them have had to be patient," Tressel said. "You mentioned Roy (Hall) and I think a guy like T.J. Downing will emerge as a leader, along with Doug Datish up front. And it's fun to watch Joel Penton and David Patterson and Jay Richardson and Quinn of course is an excellent leader. They've all been here for quite some time and I'm sure they've been rehearsing in their minds some of things they believe and some of the things they can do to serve the group now that they're leading. So, that will be an emerging thing. That's why we don't vote for captains until well into the preseason because we'd like to see who emerges."
Tressel received a contract extension during the offseason and is now making more money than he ever dreamed was possible when he first entered the coaching profession. The topic caused him to reflect on what his father – longtime Baldwin-Wallace head coach Lee Tressel – made as a football coach.
"Well, I think it was my senior year at Baldwin-Wallace, which would have been the '74 season and he had been coaching for quite some time and he finally made $20,000," Tressel said. "And I didn't go into this to make money. I went in to be an educator and you never know what is going to happen."
The Buckeyes had their conditioning test Monday morning and from all accounts the players performed well. Tressel spoke specifically about some of the true freshmen and what type of shape they are in.
"Guys like Robert (Rose) ran well this morning and he certainly looks the part and we'll find out when we strap it up. But I'm kind of thinking he'll be pretty good," Tressel said. "Aaron Gant was very impressive running today. Connor Smith was amazing with how he could run. Tyler Moeller, it wasn't an issue. So, those guys have prepared. "But what we always say to freshmen is this: ‘The key to playing as a freshman is how soon can you learn the system and then allow your physical abilities to take over.' I think they all have good physical ability. How quickly will they learn the system and that's anyone's best guess."
The freshman who is expected to contribute the most this season is running back Chris Wells, who graduated high school early and went through spring drills with the team.
Tressel was asked how much Wells could contribute this season and what he needs to do to earn a lot of playing time.
"Well, the thing that Chris Wells I hope his goal is that he has the confidence and trust from the entire offensive staff that they can put him in anytime – whether he's going to run the ball, pass pro, run routes, whatever it happens to be," Tressel said. "And that's what you shoot for. That's one of the most difficult things about being a running back is being that complete guy very fast. Because of all the different blitzes and all the things our defense does against you in preseason and your head is on a swivel. But, you know, Chris is a ball carrier and he has to make sure he has good ball security, which he showed pretty darn good all spring. And then he's got to become complete."
The good news for Wells and starting tailback Antonio Pittman (as well as Smith) is that OSU's offensive line could be very formidable this season. In fact, Downing thinks it will be even better than last year's unit, despite the losses of NFL draft picks Nick Mangold and Rob Sims.
"Well, we are experienced on the offensive line and I think we're going to be a little deeper," Tressel said. "We've got some guys in that second group like Jon Skinner and Kyle Mitchum and Ben Person and that group who are going to be fighting for that open left guard spot with Steve Rehring who is battling in there right now.
"Doug Datish is the guy we want to take over at center. We've had great centers here with LeCharles (Bentley) who was outstanding, and Alex Stepanovich took over and then Nick took over. If Jim Bollman has a good center, it makes him feel good. So, we want Doug there. And then T.J. has been at that right guard and Kirk (Barton) has been at that right tackle. Alex (Boone), who ran extremely well this morning, will be at that left tackle.
"There will be a little bit of a battle at left guard with Skinner and Rehring and Timmy Schafer who ran extremely well this morning. I think Tim is going to work with the ones today and then they'll rotate tomorrow and go from there. I think we have a little bit more experience. Now, will we play better than when we had Nick and Robbie here last year? We'll find out."
It's been well-documented that OSU lost nine defensive starters from last year's team. However, with one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten, and maybe the country, the Buckeyes should be at least solid defensively, depending on how the back seven plays. Tressel knows the secondary is green as grass, but overall seems confident that his defense will be solid.
"Well I feel good about the defense, especially the experience up front," he said. "We didn't lose as much off the front. We lost Mike Kudla and Marcus Green -- who are both in NFL camps -- and Bobby when he came off the edge. So, we lost some, but not totally. We talked about the guys coming back.
"We lost a lot of linebacker play, but I think we've got some veterans coming back.
"Where we are brand new is in the secondary. They need to add some experience. One time I saw they had a play scripted with three redshirt freshmen and a true sophomore in the secondary. And I said, "Whooo.' They are going to be lining up in the Horseshoe for the first time, they're going to line up at Texas and we're going to be young. And that concerns you. I'm not concerned from my standpoint, I'm concerned because they are young and I want things to go right for them. I think they'll do fine. But your confidence is so affected by how you do early and sometimes when you get the momentum going in the right way, you're fine.
"Malcolm Jenkins was a true freshman last year and the momentum was going his way and he played well the whole season. In fact, I thought maybe had the best corner play of any of our corners in the Fiesta Bowl. He got it rolling and got it rolling good and felt good about it. We've got to make sure we can get those guys' confidence going in the right way, because they are so young. And the safeties are the same way."
As far as injuries are concerned, the Buckeyes are in good shape as they begin camp. With one exception, everyone was able to make it through the summer without any major injuries popping up.
"(Freshman linebacker) Mark Johnson had a little shoulder procedure, so he will not be able to practice full speed," Tressel said. "Other than that, Ryan Williams we're going to watch close coming off that ACL. Doug Worthington ran like crazy this morning. I thought maybe we'd have to limit him, but by the way he ran this morning I'm not so sure. But we've got to be careful not to over-do it because he looked so good. But no, we don't have anything major other than Mark Johnson. Mark will miss a lot of time."