Heacock Happy To See The Pads Go On

Fall camp 2007 is about a week old, but for the first time OSU practiced in pads Saturday. Count defensive coordinator Jim Heacock as someone who was excited for that fact. Heacock met with the media on his favorite day of the year to discuss the progress that has been made thus far and credit some players that have made their marks.

Yet another milestone on the way to the opening game of the 2007 season was knocked out Saturday afternoon as the Ohio State football team had its first practice in full pads.

With temperatures in the mid-80s and the sun shining on Columbus, the Buckeyes trotted onto the practice field to get after it, in the words of OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. In addition to the practice in pads, the team will go through its annual hoot and holler drill in which players must try to score in short yardage situations and contact is maximized.

"I think this will be good for everybody to see who's tough," Heacock said. "This is always my favorite day."

Spring practice opened Monday with conditioning tests, and Heacock said OSU has had two practices each with no pads on and with shells on. Heacock said there will be no lack of enthusiasm during Saturday's practice even though it is the first in full pads.

"We go after it pretty good," he said. "With Coach (Jim) Tressel, we go live a lot. We go ones against ones and get after it pretty good. Today will be a pretty active day and we're going to do some live situations and certainly have a little bit of hitting."

Heacock said that it would be difficult to name any surprises so far during camp when it comes to player performance. Part of that, he said, was attributable to the lack of pads but part of it is also because the staff had a pretty good handle on who could do what coming into the season.

However, that didn't stop him from finding a few people to laud, including linebackers Ross Homan, Austin Spitler and Marcus Freeman and defensive back Donald Washington.

"I think the back-up linebackers are doing a good job," he said. "Ross Homan is doing a great job. Spitler is a tough guy that you have to get on the field. Those guys I think have stepped up a little bit. Donald … really to me matured a lot to the point that he's got some confidence out there. I think he's going to have a good year. I think Marcus Freeman is another guy that stands out to me. Sometimes you see a guy that you feel like the lights come on."

A number of freshmen have also caught the eye of Heacock, including Cameron Heyward, Jermale Hines and Brian Rolle.

"A couple freshmen coming in looked like they could run and have picked up the defense pretty well," he said. "Cameron Heyward, he's a good looking athlete, very intelligent, got the good genes and has the size and speed. At linebacker, Jermale probably stands out a little bit. Brian Rolle from Immokalee, Fla., he's a tough kid. He's a character. He's fun. He's got a good personality, and he looks good."

Heacock did clear up one personnel question, saying that redshirt freshman Chimdi Chekwa is the third cornerback at the moment behind Washington and Malcolm Jenkins but ahead of Shaun Lane. Chekwa, Lane and converted linebacker Tyler Moeller are in the mix for the nickel back spot.

In Heacock's words, the safety spots are open as well with four players, presumably Anderson Russell, Kurt Coleman, Nick Patterson and Jamario O'Neal, in the running. Four players are also rotating in at defensive tackle in an effort to help replace departed seniors Quinn Pitcock, David Patterson and Joel Penton.

"I think we have the potential to be a good front," said Heacock, who is the OSU defensive line coach in addition to his defensive coordinator responsibilities. "I really do. I like this group. I think they're a talented group and I love their personality."

With the first week of camp nearing an end, Heacock talked about the message the coaching staff has tried to impart to the defensive unit thus far.

"Probably with this group, we emphasized that there's going to be good competition," he said. "We emphasized the fact that the best players are going to play. Whoever shows that they're the best player, that's who's going to be on the field regardless of playing time last year or what year you are. We've got a real strong emphasis on improvement. We want daily improvement, we want weekly improvement and we want to get better every game."

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