"I think this is the time in the season when you're looking for perfection in all things that you do," Hazell said. "That's what you're striving for with all of the players, all of the time. We want to get a little better in each phase that we're doing and I think that's what drives you at this point in time of the year. You don't want it to get stale. Nine games into the season and guys are a little tired and it's natural, but I think you look for perfection in all those things."
Coming into the season, Hazell knew OSU would need a few young wide receivers to step up and play key roles. He was confident that guys like Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline would play well, but they've even exceeded expectations.
Robiskie has 19 receptions for 255 yards (13.4) and four touchdowns. Hartline has added nine catches for 165 yards for a team-best 18.3 yards per catch.
"They work hard and I think good things are going to happen when they work hard," Hazell said. "I think they're very attentive in meetings and they're constantly learning the game. They're around other guys that know how to do it right, or are learning how to do it right, and I think all of that leads up to good things.
"There's no question, both Brian and Brian, they are still young players and they've done a heck of a job for us this year."
"It takes the pressure off the other players," Hazell said. "If they roll the coverage and double-up on Teddy, or double-up on Gonzo, then all of a sudden there's another guy that shows up that can make the plays, it's hard to do. And like I've said before, putting Gonzo in the slot where you don't get a lot of double and then putting Robo on one side who's a big target, and Roy (Hall) who is a big target, that's hard. Who is your best corner? Most teams don't have two great corners. And your best corner, where are you going to put him? You try to look for those personnel matchups and we've been very fortunate to find some mismatches."
Hazell talked specifically about Hartline, who has stood out as a receiver and on special teams.
"He's got a heck of a career ahead of him," Hazell said. "He's very fast with the ball in his hands and he's really starting to understand what we're trying to do. But he's going to be really fun to watch by the time he's finished here."
"Yeah, it is good," Hazell said. "Depth and talent and those guys work with each other really well. They push each other and they help each other. It's comforting as a quarterback to know any one of those guys can make a play. It's very comforting for the rest of the receivers as well. The ball can go anywhere. That's the nice thing about the offense."
Hazell was asked who has claimed the No. 3 wide receiver role. Is it Hall, or Robiskie? Or possibly even Hartline?
"I would feel comfortable with any of those guys out there right now," Hazell said. "I really do. Each week I think they get a little bit better and I just say, ‘Roy go in, Robo go in, Brian go in.' They're moving from different spots too; they're not just going in the one spot."
As well as they have played, Hazell is still hard on his young wideouts. When they do something wrong, even something small, they will hear about it, and sometimes more. "I just had Brian Robiskie doing pushups in the meeting room because he ran the wrong route (in practice on Wednesday)," Hazell said. "It was supposed to be a fade route and he ran… I don't know what he ran. So we made him do some pushups in the meeting and the boys got a chuckle out of that."
"Oh, just 10," Hazell said. "It's just a little reminder."
Hazell, who seems destined for a head coaching gig at some point, also gave an injury update on the Buckeye receivers.
Gonzalez suffered a minor concussion in the Minnesota game, but is practicing a little bit this week.
"He's doing non-contact things," Hazell said. "Ball drills and things like that. But when we do contact situations, we pull him out."
Gonzalez could play at Illinois this Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPN2).
"Yeah, he is available," Hazell said. "He was a victim of friendly fire. Doug Datish got him in the back of the head. Doug was hustling down field and caught him on the back of his head with his knee."
Ginn played with a broken pinky toe against Minnesota and didn't seem to show any ill-effects.
"He's special," Hazell said. "He's probably a little better on nine toes than most people are with 10."
And Small left the Minnesota game after suffering a huge hit by Columbus native Dominic Jones. He was briefly knocked out on the play and will not play against Illinois.
"Ray's taking it nice and slow," Hazell said. "He took a heck of a hit last week and I was just thankful to see him move and get up because crazy things go through your head, so it was good to see him get up and have a smile on his face."
Hazell was asked about offensive tackle Alex Boone's injury situation, but wasn't divulging much.
"Day to day," he said.
Is it a knee?
"Day to day," he repeated.
See why we think this guy is a future head coach? He already talks like one.
Fickell Talks Linebackers, More
One of the unsung heroes on OSU's defense this season is junior linebacker Curtis Terry. He isn't putting up huge statistics (14 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss) but he brings a physical presence to the defense, as well as good athletic ability.
"He's done some different roles and he's done a good job in the roles we've asked him to play," linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. "We're trying to find different things to get him on the field. There's a lot of different things this defense is trying to do and there's a lot of people we're trying to get involved and he's one of them. In what ways can we and how many reps can we get him (is what we talk about)."
Fickell talked about Terry's tough upbringing in Cleveland that included stints of homelessness.
"He's had more struggles and more things than I could ever imagine," he said. "And we talk about that all the time. I mean, he's been through an awful lot with the stuff he's done. I always try to get to him and say, ‘Hey, this is now. No matter what happened then, you're in a situation to do the things that you can do and you struggled a lot, but you've also grown a lot too.' But he's a kid that we have to constantly stay with because he's still growing and growing and growing. But he is a very, very intelligent kid."
Terry somewhat stole the strongside linebacker job from Marcus Freeman, but it worked out well for both players because Freeman is now playing most of the snaps at the weakside position.
"It's just kind of the evolution," Fickell said. "We were playing so much nickel and (Freeman) was the Will in the nickel. He had done that before, but it's just the way it's worked out this year. It's been what's best for the team thus far in not having to double teach and take double reps."
At times it appears that "nickel" is actually OSU's base defense, not a 4-3.
"It really is," Fickell said. "And a lot of it is based on what the offense is doing too. But those are some of the things we get into about who to get on the field and what's your best personnel. The kids have done a great job with taking their roles and that's the hard part a lot of times. Everybody wants to play and everybody wants to be in there. It's just about what's best for the team and this is the role you're going to be in and that's what Curtis has done a lot of. He's taken the role and excelled with it."
The Buckeyes have also utilized a three-man front at times this year.
"It's a good change-up and we think it gives some offenses different looks," Fickell said. "It's something that we like to have in the package so we can do a lot of stemming around and give some different looks."
Ohio State was expected to have some growing pains on defense this year. But the Buckeyes are ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense (7.3 points per game) and No. 9 in the nation in total defense (261 yards per game).
"It's because of the players," Fickell said. "As long as you've got guys … you try and get your best personnel on the field and that's the key. It's not about what you're doing or what you're scheming, it's about getting the best personnel on the field and hoping that sometimes less is more."
With everyone already looking ahead to the Michigan game, one factor that keeps getting brought up is the Buckeyes' reputation of being a team that peaks late in the season. Fickell gave his take on the matter.
"That's what it's all about," he said. "I don't know if there's any magic to it, I don't know if it's something different with strength and training, I don't know if it's peaking at the right time or some psychological thing, I don't know. If I knew that I'd be writing books about teaching psychology or something. I don't know what it is. I just know it's a whole group, a whole unit from the top down."
Fickell is an excellent young coach and who knows, he could be a candidate to be OSU's head coach when Jim Tressel hangs it up years from now. But Fickell said when he was a four-year starting nose guard at OSU from 1993-96, he didn't think he would eventually get into coaching.
"No. Never," he said. "I had all these ambitions of going to med school and optometry school. Once football was kind of taken away – I got hurt and I wasn't going to be able to play anymore. Well, not because I was hurt. I couldn't play anymore because I wasn't good enough. But football ended before I wanted it to and all of a sudden it started to flash to me… you know, my dad told me, ‘Whatever you're going to do for the rest of your life, make sure you're happy.' I started to look back on the people that I respected and admired the most and every one of them happened to be coaches. It just kind of hit me this may be really what I want to do."
Fickell was asked if there's any OSU players he's coached that he thinks will be a future coaches.
"We try and talk them out of it, just like (former defensive coordinator Fred) Pagac tried to talk me out of it," he said. "There's a lot of guys that you could say (would be good coaches). Last year, Bobby Carpenter, he'll be a coach one day or will be doing something. Mike Vrabel, one of my best friends, he's always said, ‘When I get done playing, I'm going to coach here at Ohio State.' And I'm like, ‘With $30 million, what do you mean you're going to go coach? Maybe coach little league so you can go coach for two hours.'
"But there are some people that say that. Guys like David Patterson say all they want to do is coach. There's a lot of guys out there that would make great coaches. James Laurinaitis, he would make a great one, but he would also make a great a lot of things. (Anthony) Schlegel would be an unbelievable coach. He might be one that does."
Fickell was asked if being a former OSU player helps with recruiting or helps him relate to the current players.
"I don't know," he said. "I used to think it would help with recruiting because I would talk to guys on the phone and I would bring up former players, like Vrabel because he's a guy I know, and they would say, ‘Who's that?' The guy plays in the NFL. I used to think the recruiting thing was a big thing because you can really talk to them and tell them what it's like, but I think it's better for me than it is for them."