Tressel Feels Good About Buckeyes' Health

For the final time this season, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel held his Thursday post-practice interview session. Tressel discussed the Buckeyes' injury situation going into the Northwestern game, linebacker James Laurinaitis being one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, what he enjoys about calling offensive plays and more.

Despite having a few players that are nicked up, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel feels good about the overall health of his team entering week 11 of the season.

Quarterback Troy Smith has some type of thumb injury, but has enjoyed a strong week of practice according to quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels and is throwing the ball very well.

The big question mark for the Buckeyes is the status of left tackle Alex Boone who missed the Illinois game last week. Boone is expected back for the Michigan game, but won't play this Saturday at Northwestern (3:30 p.m., ABC).

"We won't have Alex," Tressel confirmed. "We'll have Ray Small back and Quinn (Pitcock) and David (Patterson) of course have been back. And Kurt Coleman we won't have.

"Brandon Smith, our third tight end, won't make it. In fact, Will Crall, a walk-on, steps up into that spot and you love those kids hang in there and I don't foresee Will jumping in the game a whole bunch, but he's there and he's ready and he's glad to be a part of it. Really, we're in pretty good shape."

When asked if he could specify Coleman's injury, Tressel simply said: "No."

The coach also discussed how Boone is progressing from his injury.

"Good," he said. "I would expect him to be able to go (against Michigan) and we'll find out early next week."

Boone made the trip to Illinois last week, but won't even travel with the team this week. Most have speculated that Boone has a knee injury, but Tressel still hasn't revealed exactly what is wrong. But he didn't refute that it was a knee problem.

"You guys are usually accurate," he said.

Tressel also talked about sophomore middle linebacker James Laurinaitis who was named one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's best linebacker. (Or as A.J. Hawk might tell you, the nation's second-best linebacker.)

Laurinaitis leads OSU with 86 tackles (39 solo) and five interceptions. He also has 8.5 tackles-for-loss and four sacks. Laurinaitis joins Penn State senior Paul Posluszny – the 2005 winner – and Mississippi senior Patrick Willis as finalists.

"That's really tremendous when you think about all the guys that the Buckeyes have had who have been on that Butkus watch list, and there's only three finalists and that's pretty special," Tressel said. "And the guys that have won it of course. I know James is really humbled by the fact that guys like (Chris) Spielman and (Andy) Katzenmoyer and A.J. Hawk and the rest that he's on that list. I think it's pretty neat."

Tressel was asked if Laurinaitis could one day be on the same level as the great OSU linebackers (and you have to include names like Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau and Marcus Marek in there as well).

"Well, the thing about recognition is a lot of it has to do with production and he's had excellent production," he said. "Tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks, interceptions. They notice when you produce, but he'll be the first one to tell you that a lot of that is because he's got some guys up front who create problems for people and he's got some guys behind him who have everyone lined up. He's just really done a good job. Last year he was ready to play and when he got his chance he played well. He's doing very well now and hopefully he'll continue this and then more."

Everyone is already looking ahead to the showdown between No. 1 OSU and No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18. Tressel was asked how difficult it will be for the Wolverines to win at Indiana this Saturday.

"It will be difficult," he said with a straight face. "Iowa went in there and got beat and anytime in this league it's difficult when you go on the road, period. I'm sure they're up there saying … they're not working on Ohio State just like we're not working on Michigan. Northwestern is all we can stand and I'm sure the Hoosiers are the same."

Tressel of course doubles as OSU's offensive coordinator (even though Jim Bollman holds that title) and he discussed how much he enjoys the play-calling aspect of coaching.

"Well, that's probably as much fun as there is," he said. "Probably the most fun thing is working with kids and just watching kids grow. The second part of the job that's probably the next most fun is having a chance to sit down a scheme and try to find out what your guys to do best and then try to find out how to do that and try to figure out what they are going to try and do to stop you and what's needed at the point in time. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong. Sometimes it works out just fine and other times it doesn't. So, that's what challenges are about."

Tressel, who says he has never woken up in the middle of the night thinking of new plays, believes offensive play-calling is a delicate balance of using what his team does best, while keeping in mind what the opposing defense might do. Some might call it a chess match.

"Probably a little of both," Tressel said. "You study what the makeup of the opponent is and how they like to deploy. You daydream about how might they try and stop what we do and then you see how it unfolds through the course of the game. Then of course you see how well you're doing and what you do. That's a lot of the fun of it.

"But I don't know that it's a chess match per se, until the game begins. Once the game begins, absolutely. I can't tell you the number of times that we've just taken that game plan and slipped it in our back pocket and said they're not doing what they have done recently and here's what they're doing and we've got to do what's best against that."

Tressel also talked about the big Thursday night match-up between undefeated Big East foes No. 3 Louisville and No. 15 Rutgers. The winner could conceivably face the winner of OSU-Michigan for the national title, especially if it's Louisville.

"I didn't hear any of (our players) talking about it, but I bet they will watch it because they love football and no matter who is on, I bet they watch," Tressel said. "They were probably watching the other night when Northern Illinois and (Toledo) were on. They enjoy football and they have a lot of respect for people they've played against or watched on film. (Northern Illinois running back) Garrett Wolfe, they were probably watching him the other night, so they're football fans. Now, I hope they are working on some studying along with it, but I bet they watch tonight's game."

This marks two weeks in a row that a nationally televised Big East Thursday night game is the game of the week in college football (West Virginia-Louisville last week). Tressel thinks it's a big boost for the Big East and could pay dividends down the line.

"Oh, absolutely," he said. "Any time you get people to watch your product and they have a very good product and when you get a chance to display it … that's why they want to play on Thursday nights and it's been a great thing for them."

Tressel also addressed the status of defensive tackle Nader Abdallah and wide receiver Devon Lyons, two highly-recruited players that have underachieved to this point.

"Nader is coming along," Tressel said. "Right now he's got Joel Penton, David Patterson and Quinn Pitcock, all seniors, all pretty darn good players. Todd Denlinger is a guy that Nader has been battling for playing time; Doug Worthington is battling in there. We need Nader to keep rolling and keep growing so he's ready for us for the future.

"Devon Lyons has really caught the injury bug. He had a bad ankle last year that kept him out and has been nursing a hamstring right now that is going to keep him from contributing on special teams. He was doing a good job on the scout team, but he hurt the hamstring and he can't help us out in those roles. Both good kids both kids that we hope will be players for us in the future, but when you get injured and you can't practice, boy it makes it hard to play."

Tressel always finds a way to get the most out of his kickers and punters, and the latest example is freshman kicker Aaron Pettrey who is 8-for-11 on field goals, nailed a 50-yarder last week and consistently booms his kickoffs deep in the end zone. So much for enduring growing pains as a freshman.

"His stroke has been good," Tressel said. "We're really focused in on how his extra points look and if his extra points hit the flagpole, that means he's got a little rhythm. And that 50-yarder that he hit, he had a nice wind behind it, all he needed to do was swing like an extra point because it was going to go. He has so much leg and a lot of young kickers won't do that. They'll be out at the 50 and think that, ‘Oh, I've got to crush this,' and Aaron really impressed me that he can just walk out there, take an extra point swing and watch the football go through the uprights from 50, dead center. And his kickoffs, deep, deep, deep."

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