Press Luncheon, Teleconference Wrap-Up

OSU head coach Jim Tressel kicked off his weekly Tuesday meetings with the media by joining the Big Ten coaches teleconference. This week, the coach discussed a wide variety of topics. (Story updated at 3:05 p.m. to include comments from Tressel's press luncheon.)

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was still noticeably in a good mood three days after the top-ranked Buckeyes' 38-17 win at Iowa.

At his weekly press luncheon on Tuesday, Tressel reviewed the big victory in Iowa City, and looked ahead to this week's matchup against visiting Bowling Green (3:40 p.m., ABC).

First up, he revealed OSU's players of the week. They included: Anthony Gonzalez (offense), T.J. Downing (Jim Parker offensive lineman), Brandon Mitchell (defense), James Laurinaitis (attack force), Aaron Pettrey (special teams), Ray Small (scout team offense), Tyler Moeller (scout team defense) and Marcus Williams (scout team special teams).

Freshman safety Anderson Russell was lost for the season with a torn ACL at Iowa on the second kickoff of the game. There was some talk that freshman cornerback Kurt Coleman might move to safety – the position he played in high school – but Tressel said that Coleman will stay at corner.

However, freshman Aaron Gant, who the staff had planned on redshirting, will be "activated" (to use an NFL term) and will be in the two-deep at safety behind starters Mitchell and Jamario O'Neal. Sophomore Nick Patterson, who began the year in the starting lineup before being passed by Russell, is the other backup safety.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Mitchell – a fifth-year senior – is playing the best football of his career and has really emerged as a leader in the secondary. It's easy to forget that Mitchell started a few games as a redshirt freshman in 2003 ahead of Nate Salley.

"Yeah, I think Brandon Mitchell has always had a great handle on what it is we would like to do," Tressel said. "Sometimes he didn't have as many opportunities to do it, because he had some pretty good safeties. If you think about the safeties that have been here since Brandon's been here, guys like Donte Whitner and Nate Salley, you can only play a couple safeties at a time and those two guys are in the NFL right now. So I think he's always had a handle on what to do, now he's had a chance to prove that he can do it day after day. And I've been pleased, not just with his physical performance, but I think he's done an excellent job making sure that the people around him who are new are comfortable and he's done a good leadership job."

As for O'Neal, he was one of the top recruits in the country in 2005 out of Cleveland Glenville. Tressel was asked how much of a drop-off there is from Russell to O'Neal.

"You might need to ask that of (safeties coach) Paul Haynes," he said. "Obviously Anderson was ahead of Jamario, but beyond that, I couldn't quantify if it was four percent or eight percent. I really don't know."

Tressel doesn't necessarily agree that O'Neal has not lived up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him coming out of high school.

"He played a lot as a true freshman, which is unusual at a place like ours," Tressel said. "And he had a veteran guy, Brandon Mitchell, who was fighting it out with him during preseason and played some, probably played 20 to 25 percent through the first few games and didn't grade out winning this past weekend, but didn't grade out poorly at all. So, he'll just keep getting better. The more you play, the better you get and Brandon Mitchell had played a lot more than he over the course of a career. So now Jamario gets a lot more opportunity."

Ohio State did not use a rotation on its offensive line against Iowa. The five starters played the majority of the snaps. And Tressel has been pleased with the progress of the left side of the line that includes mammoth sophomores Alex Boone and Steve Rehring.

"I think Alex's last two games have been his best two," Tressel said. "A week ago he was the lineman of the week, and Steve Rehring the week before that was lineman of the week, so I think they're coming along.

"I thought Rory Nicol had his best day blocking the edge. Sometimes that was on that left side.

"(Boone and Rehring are) big, and if they play low enough with good technique and get their hands inside, against Iowa, if you watch the film, if Iowa gets their hands inside, you're in trouble, you're knocked backwards and we had some plays where we were knocked backwards. But when you use good technique and play low and you happen to be 320 some pounds, do you have a chance to make a difference and there were a significant number of times those kids did that."

Ohio State (5-0) will be facing a Bowling Green (3-2) team that is coming off its most impressive victory of the season against Ohio University. The Falcons have been using two quarterbacks – sophomore Anthony Turner from Dayton, Ohio, and freshman Freddie Barnes. Barnes also plays running back.

"The two quarterback system, they seem to throw it a little more with Turner and run it a little more with Barnes," Tressel said. "They're both dangerous and the QB run is such a big part of their system. So you have one more guy to account for than you do in many games and they'll spread you out all over the field, so it's going to be a challenge for our defense. They give you every kind of personnel grouping you can think of."

Tressel also broke down BGSU's defense.

"I think their ends, who one of them started against us last time we played, I think their ends are the strength of their defense," he said. "The other thing that I think is the strength of their defense is they can run and they like to strike you. They're getting better. They're so young in the secondary that I'm not sure they do as many things as some teams we face, so what we have to figure out is what is it they're focusing on growing with, and then adjust our plan accordingly, but I'm very impressed with the speed at which they play."

It's no secret that college football has a flawed instant replay system. Against Iowa, Ted Ginn Jr. had a reception that was reviewed and overturned. Calls are not supposed to be overturned unless there is clear evidence a call was missed. But Ginn's wasn't even close. It was a catch, making the overturn even more curious. But that's just one example of what's wrong with the system.

Tressel was asked for his general take on the replay system and if it needs to be tweaked.

"My thought originally was I'm not a real replay guy because it's not comprehensive," he said. "There are holds and this and that that you can't replay. But if you're going to have a system, perhaps we might have the best system.

"Now I think what we have to do is decide, is it the best system and I don't know. I've got enough things I need to get better at, but you hear it talked about a lot and usually if it's talked about a lot, it does need some work, what, I'm not sure. But again, I like the human element, and I've never lost the game because of the officials and I'd like to think I've never won one because of the officials. I'm for them running the show, but I don't have any votes.

"Offensively, we looked at the one in Teddy's case. What disappointed me about that one was, I thought it was a catch, but things happen. The thing I was disappointed about was I thought that he got speared, and to me, I'll never complain about calls when they're safety related, even if they're wrong. I was a little disappointed from that standpoint, but again, I don't know what views -- we can't have any electronic equipment in our booth or on our sideline.

"The people watching the game in DuBuque know more than we do. I haven't seen Drew Tate's arm going forward or backward, whatever the thing. The people in the booth have all the angles that the TV has and so I have to assume they'll make good decisions. I like the focus of the game being on the humans playing it."

Quarterback Troy Smith has emerged as the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and although Tressel isn't big on individual awards, he thinks the Heisman hype might be good for team camaraderie.

"I've overheard some of the guys saying that," Tressel said. "I overheard someone in an interview one time saying, ‘I block for the guy that's up for the Heisman,' or whatever. Again, we don't discuss it. They may sit around discussing it, wishing for good things to happen to your teammates is not a bad thing."

Teleconference Wrap-Up

Tressel opened his portion of the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference with a statement about the win at Iowa.

"We had a tremendous effort from our players and coaches up in Iowa City," he said. "It was another great Big Ten venue. The noise was terrific, the electricity was in the air.

"Our kids did a good job of keeping poised and focused at the task at hand. We did a good job of getting a Big Ten victory on the road, which is very difficult."

Most people feel that Ohio State's schedule is very favorable leading up to the finale against Michigan, now that the road games against Texas and Iowa are complete. Tressel was asked if there was any concern that the team might be looking ahead somewhat.

"I think the first thing is that we shouldn't take as a given is that those were our two toughest road games," he said. "We travel on the road three more times in the Big Ten conference, and who's to say those won't be tougher? All we need to do is just pick up the paper every Sunday morning. Somebody's beating someone that's raising an eyebrow. So try not to be one of those teams and stay focused on the task at hand."

Ohio State showed a tremendous amount of poise and focus in the hostile road environment at Iowa. Tressel was asked what he thought his team's personality was at this point.

"I think we're going to find out," he said. "Our biggest challenge right now is to decide just how good we'd like to be. The only way to get better is to keep practicing hard.

"I think they're a mature group. I've mentioned often that we have 17 fifth-year seniors. Those guys have been through some ups-and-downs and they've seen a lot, and they do an excellent job leading."

Many thought OSU would struggle in the road night games, partly based on their past track record in such events. The Buckeyes ironically have played their best football in those two games, but Tressel says they have not approached things much differently.

"In the course of the preseason, we practiced twice at night," he said. "Beyond a couple night practices, we really didn't do anything different. Now we've played some really good teams. Usually when your playing a night game, it means there are two really good teams getting together and you're not going to win all of those."

Tressel was asked if the team focuses at all at this point on the national title picture.

"We really don't talk big picture outside of the first day we report," he said. "The only reason we talk about it on that day is it's really the first time we are all together.  That's about the only time we ever talk big picture.

"Really after the opening meeting, we go after it day by day."

Tressel said he hasn't even thought about it much himself in private.

"First of all, you don't have many private moments," he said. "Secondly, there's so much to think about when you do get a chance to think, there's so much going on in the here and now, I don't get a chance to think much about beyond this day."

Many people have been surprised by the performance so far of the Buckeye defense, but Tressel has not been one of them.

"I'm not surprised by anything," he said. "I'm certainly pleased by their ability so far to create turnovers. That's been tremendous. They're doing that because they're flying around and playing hard.

"We have a long way to go on defense... I don't know if I'm surprised.  I know what kind of work ethic these kids have. We'll keep getting better on defense each day."

Usually there are plenty of questions thrown Tressel's way about the coming week's game, but with this week seeing the Buckeyes having a lower-profile opponent, Tressel was asked a variety of questions.

One particularly interesting topic was raised during a question about the health of football coaches. Tressel was asked about his thoughts on the importance of health, which became much more of a reality at Ohio State this year due to the health problems of assistants Jim Bollman and Joe Daniels. 

"I'm very conscious of it," Tressel said. "I try to make sure I get two good workouts a week during the season. I used to hope for three, but I've surrendered. I try to get two good workouts a week and try to be a little careful of what I eat, but when you're there for 17 hours, you get to snacking a little."

Tressel was then asked about if stress plays a factor in the health of coaches.

"I'm sure if you talk to medical folks, stress is one of the components," he said. "Coaches, while we do have a stressful job, all of the coaches would agree we have a fun job. It's not like people are putting us in an office and locking the door and not letting us come out; it's something we enjoy doing."

Tressel was also asked his thoughts on the 12-game schedule and if he would prefer a bye week to be included. This week would have been Ohio State's bye week before the decision to implement the 12-game schedule was made.

"I think twelve games are here to stay," he said. "What would be my ideal lineup? It would be to start the season a week earlier because our guys are training all summer long anyway. Being in the Big Ten schedule in the good weather, more so at the beginning of the season at the end.

"I would just as soon start a week earlier, perhaps have a bye and have all Big Ten games in a row. If we can't start a week earlier, I'd just as soon go twelve straight."

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