Camp A Spirited One So Far

The Ohio State football team didn't practice until full pads until Saturday, but three days later, the players couldn't help but remark how spirited camp has been so far. Players and coaches said there have been many big hits, as well as some noise from places there wasn't noise a year ago.

The pads started popping Saturday afternoon, and already the 2007 Ohio State football camp has picked up a reputation as a spirited one.

In the words of junior tight end Rory Nicol, there haven't been any Vince Young-Donnie Nickey situations, a reference to a scuffle in Tennessee Titans training camp this year in which the former Texas quarterback confronted Nickey, a former Buckeye defensive back, for a particularly violent tackle. But that does not mean that the players have not gotten after it in the first few days of hitting.

"I think it's been a physical camp, really," said Nicol, a player not afraid to mix it up himself. "There's been some hitting going on. We've been in a lot of live situations."

A year ago, Ohio State went into the season with a No. 1 ranking and an offense sure to put up points because of quarterback Troy Smith, tailback Antonio Pittman and wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. On the other side of the ball was a defense having to replace nine starters, many of which were going to be replaced by younger players.

This time around, the shoe is on the other foot. It's the defense that comes in expecting to be the strength of the team while the offense will have new starters at all the skill positions. As a result, the Buckeyes are figuring just what kind of team they are going to be.

"We're searching for an identity," Nicol said. "We're searching hard, and half of that battle is the physical part. That's been clear with the way that we've been playing."

Added into that is a defense that has been making its share of noise. Many of its stars, including linebacker James Laurinaitis, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and end Vernon Gholston, are now leaders after standout first seasons as starters in '06. As a result, defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has seen a difference in the camp atmosphere in between the two seasons.

"This group's kind of noisy compared to last year," Heacock said. "It's a different group. They have some personality and are just maybe a little more talkative."

Nicol seconded Heacock's opinion based on what he's seen in practice thus far: a defense that's able to make big plays and isn't modest when doing so.

"I think our defense really has a lot of guys that are emotional guys," he said. "When they start getting rah-rah, the offense is going to right back. That's kind of the way it is here. On the field it's offense vs. defense. When you leave the field you can be boys with those DBs and those linebackers, but that's how it is at this level. You play defense, I play offense. It's me vs. you."

Strong-side linebacker Larry Grant had no apologies for the defense's play, and pointed to freshmen Eugene Clifford and Jermale Hines as two players that had been putting some licks on people.

"It's been real physical," Grant said. "That's just the name of football. If you don't like to hit, you can't be playing this game. We've had plenty of big hits."

As for whether or not he was happy that his defense was making some noise, Heacock wasn't quite sure.

"I don't know," he said. "If they can back it up. There's still a long way to go."

On the offensive side, Nicol said the coaching staff is one that would prefer a player to walk the walk rather than talk the talk. Still, with outspoken players like Kirk Barton, Alex Boone and Nicol himself, the offense finds a way to get in its share of fun.

"The staff we have really is a staff that preaches doing it more than talking about it, but we've had fun," Nicol said. "Anytime we score a TD or make a big play, we let the defense know, that's for sure."

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