Outlook Remains Uncertain For OSU DB Trio

It has been a difficult week for the Ohio State secondary, which has had to endure practice under the speculation of imminent suspensions for at least three of its players. Following the team's jersey scrimmage Saturday morning, head coach Jim Tressel addressed the futures of Donald Washington, Jamario O'Neal and Eugene Clifford.

Donald Washington, Eugene Clifford and Jamario O'Neal are all still members of the Ohio State football team – for now, at least.

Following a week where all three defensive backs were rumored to be facing various levels of suspension for off-the-field incidents, all three were seen at the team's jersey scrimmage Saturday morning. O'Neal and Clifford wore yellow jerseys signifying that they were not available for contact, while Washington saw time with the team's third-string defensive unit.

But while the trio remains in uniform and on the roster, the future remains cloudy for all three players. Following the scrimmage, OSU head coach Jim Tressel did not rule out that one or all three of the players could be missing time when the regular season rolls around this fall.

"We'll see," Tressel said. "It's a long time between now and then. Like in anything else, when things aren't exactly as they should be sometimes you lose privileges."

Those potential lost privileges do not include lost practice time, apparently. Senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said Washington is seeing a little bit of time in practice with the team's third-string defense – an observation Tressel confirmed.

Word first got out Thursday evening that all three players had allegedly failed drug tests and were facing suspensions. O'Neal was to be suspended for the first two games of the season, while both Washington and Clifford would miss the entire season because theirs were repeat offenses.

Reached for comment that evening by BuckeyeSports.com, Washington denied being in any sort of trouble.

"I'm cool," Washington said. "Everything is fine from what I know. You can close that rumor."

Ted Ginn Sr., O'Neal's high school head coach and surrogate father, said he was unaware of any possible suspension. Clifford's mother, Veronica Staley, said her son had not been suspended but that other players had been.

But on Friday afternoon, OSU sports information director Shelly Poe denied that any players were being suspended.

Last season, Clifford was suspended for a violation of team rules for the team's bowl game against LSU. He was also arrested prior to his enrollment at OSU for possession of marijuana, a minor misdemeanor. He paid a $105 fine.

Although Tressel did not say it was a repeat violation for any of the players, he said such problems are concerning.

"I think anytime, no matter what it is, sometimes you can learn from something and say ‘we all make mistakes,' " he said. "When you repeat mistakes, whether it's on the field, off the field, in the classroom, wherever it happens to be, does it concern you? Absolutely.

"You'd like to think that you can learn from when you don't do things as well. Ideally you hope you learn from what you see other people err with and you say, ‘Ooh, I'm not going to do that.' "

Washington entered the spring as one of the team's starting cornerbacks. Now relegated to the third team, Washington is a backup to Chimdi Chekwa. Last season, Chekwa was the team's fifth defensive back and saw extensive playing time in the team's nickel defense.

Clifford suffered an injury and was unavailable for the latter part of the season, while O'Neal saw action with the second-string defense.

Should any combination of those three players be unavailable this fall, Jenkins said he is confident in the depth of the secondary.

"It's not too much different," he said. "Chimdi can still play just as well. It's not going to change us defensively at all."

For the immediate future, then, all three players are still Buckeyes. Whether that will still be the case when OSU hosts Youngstown State to kick off the 2008 season remains to be seen.

"Sometimes you don't do what you're supposed to do and you lose your car keys," Tressel said. "That's as simple as I can put it."

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