The World According To Gonzalez

Anthony Gonzalez definitely doesn't sound like your typical college student. He is wise beyond his years, which makes him a good person to get information from regarding Ohio State's football team. The junior wide receiver gives his takes on Troy Smith, OSU's offense as a whole, Ted Ginn Jr., Antonio Pittman, sleeping in tents, and much more

Chatting with Anthony Gonzalez, it's easy to forget you're talking to a 21-year-old. The Ohio State junior wide receiver looks and talks well beyond his years, and the Rhodes Scholar candidate always has interesting insights to offer when queried about the latest developments with the team.

No, you won't get the typical responses from "Gonzo." And that's why it's a good idea to pay close attention to what he says.

For starters, he gave his take on OSU senior quarterback Troy Smith.

"Troy, as has been well-documented, has really taken off – his game and him as a leader," Gonzalez said. "As a person, he's really developed in so many ways and it really is an honor to play on his team right now. I have a feeling that it's going to be one of those things where 25 years from now people will say, ‘You played with Troy Smith, didn't you?' And I'll say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I was lucky enough to play for him.'"

Gonzalez was then asked if this year's OSU offense could be one of the best in school history. But since he grew up rooting for Michigan (his father played for the Wolverines for one season) he isn't well-versed in OSU football history. But he has perused the media guide long enough to form an opinion on something else historical.

"I do remember, I don't remember the names, but I do remember the one Eddie George was on, '95," Gonzalez said in reference to the OSU offense that shattered several school records. "I know this: I've looked at the quarterbacking records and it is my opinion that Troy Smith will go down as the best quarterback in Ohio State history after this year."

Tell us how you really feel, Anthony.

Gonzalez (6-0, 195) had a very solid 2005 season with 28 receptions, 373 yards and two touchdowns. He also had the 26-yard leaping catch on the winning drive at Michigan – a catch that will be replayed on OSU highlight reels for years.

He, and the rest of the offense, is expected to take that next step this season. The group will be versatile and flexible. The Buckeyes can go power-I, or spread it out with four receivers. Bascially, Gonzalez thinks they will look a lot alike the unit that beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

"I think we'll see a very similar offense as what we saw last year," he said. "Structurally, it doesn't change much from year to year, and we do have the majority of our players back on offense. So, from a form standpoint, it will look very similar.

"Now, how are we performing as an offense right now? I'd say we're getting there. Certainly not where we need to be. But we're definitely progressing and that's kind of the challenge for the next few days to make sure we get to where we need to be."

Gonzalez couldn't pinpoint exactly what is not clicking with the offense during camp.

"Well, it's nothing in particular, but for whatever reason on certain plays one part of the equation isn't necessarily working," he said. "Whether it's a receiver not running the right route, a lineman not getting his block, a quarterback not throwing the ball properly – and this isn't on the majority of the plays, just some plays – we're not executing. That's kind of a big challenge to get your execution down because that's really the hard part to make sure everything is timed up well and the execution is sound.

"I personally think we're further ahead at this point than last year, I really do. It helps that we kind of have all of our pieces working together at this point. Last year we had the quarterback situation to deal with, which might have set us back a little bit, which is no excuse. So, this year we don't have that to deal with and it seems encouraging. I'm not skeptical at all that we are going to start off slow."

One reason the offense might not have looked as smooth as expected during the jersey scrimmage last Friday is the fact that OSU's defense seems to be ahead of the curve at this point.

"The thing about our defense – and I've said this since the Fiesta Bowl last year – the talent is always there, just like it is on offense," Gonzalez said. "There are certain programs in the country, and we're fortunate to be a part of one, where talent is not really an issue all that often. And I believe that's how it is for this team. And our defense, they seem to have developed pretty quickly, which is encouraging for everyone."

Gonzalez is faster, stronger

Gonzalez feels he had a very productive off-season working with new strength coach Eric Lichter. He was already a 4.3 guy, but says he got faster and stronger in the last several months.

"I would say I'm in the best shape of my life," Gonzalez said. "I really try my best to take care of myself this summer and then we brought in Coach Lichter who has done a tremendous job. And I'm very familiar with him – I had worked out with him before when I was in high school. And so, not only me, but I feel everyone is in pretty darn good shape right now."

It was also revealed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week that Gonzalez "sleeps in a tent" in order to improve his conditioning even more. The "tent" is actually a 6-by-6-by-8-foot plastic chamber that he places over his bed. It sucks air from the tent, removes oxygen, and gives the effect of living at 8,000 feet above sea level.

"I think the tent is kind of like something that gives you that little bit extra maybe," Gonzalez said. "It doesn't make all the difference in the world, but it does make a difference. It's just another part of ethically trying to gain an advantage, safely."

Gonzalez says there were no long-term lingering effects from the concussion he suffered last spring.

"It went away after about a week or so," he said. "The effects were marginal. But thinking back there was a paper I didn't do very well on."

What does that mean? He got an A-minus instead of an A?

"No, actually I think I got a B," Gonzalez said. "It was a two-page paper and that usually takes me about 20 minutes to write and it took me three hours.

"That was really the only thing that bothered me. Luckily there were no tests that week."

Gonzalez has big plans for his junior season. He has set a few goals, which he likes to keep to himself, but he revealed one of them to reporters.

"One, for example, is no dropped balls," he said. "And if you went to the scrimmage you saw I fell short in that regard. I dropped two. Just things like that."

With his speed, smarts, route-running and sure hands, Gonzalez has the makings of a very good No. 2 receiver. But he has no delusions about his role on the team. He believes Ted Ginn Jr. is the clear No. 1 and is on the verge of a huge year.

"Ted, since the spring, to me, has really come on as a top-flight receiver," Gonzalez said. "He really has. He's done so much from a physical standpoint in terms of getting more explosive, getting faster, getting stronger, which is scary to think about, but it's true. And on top of that, his knowledge of the game has really taken off in the last 10 or eight months."

Gonzalez also gave his take on junior tailback Antonio Pittman, who somehow is ranked in the middle of the pack among Big Ten running backs despite coming off of a 1,331-yard season.

"Tony Pittman is like Santonio Holmes this year," Gonzalez said. "A guy who is extremely talented and productive, but for whatever reason just doesn't get the recognition that he deserves. And Tony is such a talented back, he's kind of a smaller guy but he breaks more tackles than any 198-pound guy I've ever seen in my life. So, it's kind of funny you say that, I always kid him about that. ‘Why aren't they throwing your name out there?'"

Does it bother Pittman?

"I don't think so," Gonzalez said. "It might. I mean I'm sure it could get… I don't know how much he pays attention to it to be honest with you. But it bothers me more than it bothers him.

"That's another thing where it's very encouraging to have another weapon like that on this offense."

Gonzalez knows Pittman will be the workhorse again this year, but also feels that true freshman Chris Wells will get plenty of action.

"Chris is very talented," he said. "Chris is one of those guys in that he's a different kind of back with more power. But at the same time, he has pretty darn good speed. And he has pretty good cutting ability. So, it's one of those things where he's in a situation where Pittman will obviously get most of the carries, but Chris will certainly contribute. We have players have no doubt that when he's in the game he will make a positive contribution."

The top three receivers appear set with Ginn, Gonzalez and fifth-year senior Roy Hall. But sophomore Brian Robiskie is doing his best to get his name in the mix and is currently pushing Hall.

"Well, Robo has always been talented," Gonzalez said. "And he's a coach's son (Cleveland Browns WR coach Terry Robiskie, a former two-time interim head coach in the NFL) so he came in fairly polished, fairly developed. But even on top of that has taken great strides, in spring and now into camp. He is really having a nice camp. It's just part of going to Ohio State. There's always talented players and he is certainly one of them and I'm looking forward to seeing how he develops on the field. Him and I are kind of workout partners, I guess you could say. We did pretty much everything together this summer and spring, he's a friend of mine."

What other young receivers are in the mix? Brian Hartline? Albert Dukes?

"I would say both to answer your question," Gonzalez said. "One of the things I was talking to (OSU receivers coach Darrell) Hazell about the other day is just how deep we are at receiver and how well everyone is playing out there. There really isn't anybody I can think of on our roster that is struggling right now, or that we don't feel confident in putting in the game. Hartline certainly is a talented player, as is Albert Dukes. So, it's one of those things where it will be interesting to see where the reps go I guess."

Finally, the Academic All-America nominee gave his take on beginning the season ranked No. 1 in both of the major polls. And you just knew it was something he didn't put much stock in.

"I look at it kind of as a nothing, to be honest," Gonzalez said. "Rankings are strange in that they really don't mean anything early on. The only thing that they are good for, I guess you could say, are determining where the initial position on the BCS will be. So, in that regard, if hypothetically four teams went undefeated, odds are the teams that started highest in the preseason polls would be the two that played in the title game. So, in that regard I guess it's beneficial. But other than that, I really don't pay attention to it."

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