Week 11 Notebook: Peterson, Haynes Talk Shop

Ohio State tight ends coach John Peterson and safeties coach Paul Haynes met with reporters following Wednesday's practice. Peterson talked about Jake Ballard, the offensive line and a possible big rule change in college football in the coming years. Haynes discussed Jamario O'Neal's progress, Brandon Mitchell and more.

When tight end Jake Ballard signed with Ohio State, many people figured he would eventually move to offensive tackle. Ballard insisted at the time that he would definitely be a tight end and that OSU recruits tackles to play tackle.

And he was right. The 6-7, 255-pound freshman from Springboro is the Buckeyes' No. 2 tight end behind Rory Nicol and appears to have a bright future.

And that future, no matter how big he might get, will always be spent as a tight end.

"No question," OSU tight ends coach John Peterson said. "Jake, I don't mind if he's a 285-pound tight end here by the time he's done. He's a very talented athlete and nowadays in football we're blocking 300-pound defensive ends sometimes, so I don't mind a 285-pound tight end. But he's only about 255 right now as a freshman.

"Jake keeps getting better and better with every rep he gets. He's a young player who's just having fun playing the game and Rory has really taken him under his wing and really helps coach him and Jake's going to play a lot of football."

Peterson, OSU's recruiting coordinator, probably didn't expect Ballard to play so much as a true freshman when he recruited him. But after Marcel Frost found his way off the team, everything changed.

"You never know until they get here on campus and you actually get a chance to work with them and Jake has the natural size and speed and hands," Peterson said. "The big thing that he had to learn was the techniques and the assignments and that takes time and like I said, every rep that Jake Ballard gets, he gets better."

The 6-5, 250-pound Nicol is having a solid sophomore season as the starter with nine receptions for 116 yards and three touchdowns. But Peterson discussed if it's difficult for Nicol to get three catches one week and not have a ball thrown his way the next.

"I think all the tight ends understand and recognize that the talent-level and the playmakers that we have on this team is phenomenal and what they want to do is be a part in any way," Peterson said. "If sometimes that's to protect, or run block, or have an opportunity to have the ball thrown to them, they're a very selfless group. It's a fun group, they're great guys and like I said they are going to keep growing as they get experience. As they understand how defenses are trying to attack us they will keep growing as a part of this offense.

"They are big, athletic guys that can catch the ball. But we're fortunate to have a lot of playmakers and there's only one ball and they understand that."

Peterson also updated the status of left tackle Alex Boone who is nursing a knee injury.

"He's working with strength coaches and just keeps working and getting stronger and stronger," Peterson said.

Head coach Jim Tressel indicated at his Tuesday press conference that Boone would likely miss the Northwestern game.

"I'd say that's probably true," Peterson said.

The big question is whether the Buckeyes will go with Tim Schafer again at left tackle, or if they will find another option.

"I think we're in the same kind of rotation," Peterson said. "We have Ben Person who keeps getting better. Jimmy Cordle keeps getting better. So, I think playing the multiple linemen all year is paying off."

When asked if Cordle was now the backup center, Peterson said: "I think we have two very qualified guys who do a very good job for us and that's Tyler Whaley and Jimmy."

As for Boone, the offense seemed to take a big hit with him out of the lineup. Depending on the point of view, left tackle could be the most important position on the offensive line, especially when it is protecting the blind side of possibly the best player in college football. Others think center is the most important position, and rightfully so. But there is no doubt that the Buckeyes miss Boone.

"It's just part of the game, Peterson said. "It's opportunities for other guys and we just keep working hard and someone else has to step up."

The good news is that Boone walked through the lobby of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday and was not walking with a limp and was not wearing a brace. He is expected to play against Michigan on Nov. 18.

But Peterson said he is not thinking about "The Game" just yet.

"Absolutely not," he said. "Absolutely not."

* Peterson also discussed an interesting subject that could change the landscape of college football. Coaches across the country are pushing for a rule change that would allow players five years of eligibility and would eliminate the option of redshirting.

"I think the big issue right now is trying to get five for five," Peterson said. "And that would be good for a lot of reasons. I think a guy coming in and by week five, six, seven they are a lot better than when they were coming off moving out of home, coming to college and that shock just from homesickness. And also the term redshirt, they're not going to play. But if you have an opportunity, hey, to be on the week 11 kickoff team, you're going to prepare a little bit harder, you may study a little bit more and your focus and concentration as a freshman is more in tact. You still have that hope of, hey, you might get on that field."

Peterson was asked if he believes the "five for five" rule is a strong possibility, or a long-shot.

"I think it's happening here in the future, would be my guess," he said. "Socially I think it makes sense for kids to have that motivation to go to bed early and take care of yourself that freshman year, as opposed to, ‘Hey, I'm not playing, I've got a free-for-all to not be as focused as I need to.' You don't want them to lose that competitive edge. You want a young guy to have that desire and be ready to go at practice at compete."

Haynes pleased with Mitchell's play

Safeties coach Paul Haynes knew he would be coaching a young group this year. But he does have one veteran in his group and he definitely appreciates having fifth-year senior Brandon Mitchell around.

The 6-3, 205-pound Mitchell is fourth on the team in tackles with 44 (25 solo) and has added three tackles-for-loss, four pass break-ups and an interception.

"I think he's having a great season," Haynes said. "He was kind of a back guy, a behind-the-scenes guy last year with all the rest of the guys that we had. But as we said at the beginning of the season, we're only going to be as good as our seniors play. And he's been playing well. I think he improved a lot in everything. He had a great summer, I think he does a great job with preparation and watching video and all that type of stuff. He's improved himself as a football player completely."

Mitchell has already graduated and will have many options when he leaves OSU. But could he be an NFL safety?

"I think he can be. I think he can be," Haynes said. "He has all the tools. He's big, he can run, he's smart."

Haynes also talked about the progress of sophomore safety Jamario O'Neal who was thrust into a starting role when Anderson Russell was lost for the season with a knee injury.

"I think Jamario is a rep guy," Haynes said. "The more reps that he gets, the better off he'll be. I think he's getting a better understanding of his position a little bit and I think he's getting better."

Haynes explained why he believes O'Neal could be a very good safety down the road.

"He's got great speed and he's an aggressive kid," he said. "And he wants to do well. I think football is important to him. Coming from Glenville, he's seen all the success that those kids have, the Donte Whitners and stuff like that. I think he wants to be on the same level as those guys."

Another young safety the coaches are excited about is true freshman Aaron Gant. But his role this year is on special teams and probably nothing more (other than mop-up duty) according to Haynes.

"He's a little bit of a ways away just understanding the defense a little bit," he said. "He's a guy that is getting a lot of reps in practice and is continuing to get better. He's an aggressive kid, but he's still young, a young pup."

But there's one thing that Gant already has that the coaches love: a willingness to hit and tackle. The Buckeyes pride themselves on having a physical secondary that can help shut down the running game.

"Oh, for sure," Haynes said. "You look at our guys and the size of them, they're good looking kids. You can't tell a difference between corner and safety right now. They're all built the same; they all look the same. But I think it's important. Teams try and spread you out and then run the football and we work on tackling a lot."

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