A 'Special' First Day Of Practice

Fall is rapidly approaching, and under a warm sunny sky in Columbus the Ohio State football team assembled on the outdoor practice fields for the first practice of the 2008 fall season. With plenty of experienced players returning, head coach Jim Tressel had a "special" point of emphasis for the first day.

Jim Tressel did not waste time addressing an area of concern for his 2008 Ohio State football team.

As the Buckeyes reported for their first day of duty, the team's first official practice was geared solely around special teams – to the point where there were no offensive or defensive drills in the team's afternoon practice session.

While the quarterbacks and offensive linemen, who have small to nonexistent roles to play in special teams, worked on their own, Tressel said the focus was to help a special teams game that ranked "last in the world" last season find ways to improve.

"It's a little bit different, but it's an emphasis that we feel as if we need," Tressel said. "We want to make sure that we get deep into our special teams from a concept standpoint so that they understand how important they are."

As a team, the Buckeyes were ranked 117th out of 119 teams in Division I football in kickoff returns, averaging 17.29 yards per return. Having analyzed the team's performance during spring practice, Tressel said he views redshirt freshman Dan Herron and sophomore Brandon Saine – both running backs – as the two players who best caught his eye.

Aside from them, Tressel listed junior wide receiver Ray Small as the team's top candidate to be the go-to guy for punt returns. The Buckeyes were 58th in the country last season with an average of 8.91 yards per return.

But special teams aside, the OSU head coach addressed the status of a number of players on the roster. Junior defensive lineman Doug Worthington went through drills with the team less than two weeks removed from being arrested and charged with OVI. Tressel said he will continue to work out with the team through fall camp.

"He's practicing with us," Tressel said. "He's going through some things right now. He's got to get over some hurdles, but Doug's a good kid."

No determination has been made as to whether or not Worthington will be available for action when the Buckeyes open the season August 30 against Youngstown State. The same goes for junior cornerback Donald Washington.

Freshman defensive tackle Shawntel Rowell will not be with the team this season, however.

"Shawntel is not with us right now," Tressel said. "Hopes to be here in December, but he's not in this 105 (person roster)."

From a health standpoint the Buckeyes are in pretty good shape. Freshman offensive tackle Mike Adams was limited from live drills – "Although I don't know what you can do live in shorts," Tressel said – but still participated in stretching and position workouts at the beginning of practice. Classmate and high school teammate Jake Stoneburner was held out of practice with what Tressel termed "a little bit of a leg thing."

Neither of the two players is expected to be out long.

Senior Curtis Terry has officially moved from linebacker to fullback after impressing there during the spring. His departure has apparently opened the door for sophomore Ross Homan to claim the starting job at weakside linebacker, lining him up with senior James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker and classmate Marcus Freeman at the strongside spot.

"(Terry) showed us that he could be a great fullback, and that's something that we obviously need," Tressel said. "He's got a little something about him that I think he could add from a leadership standpoint to that group. We think between fullbacks and special teams, Curtis can make an impact in his senior year."

In addition, sophomore Devon Torrence is back to being a full-time cornerback after spending much of last season at the wide receiver spot. The possibility remains, however, that he will see some time at wideout as well.

Tressel expressed excitement as the team put on helmets for the first time this year.

"I've been around these guys a long time and we have great expectations and hopes for them," Tressel said. "We're rooting for them like crazy. There's some young guys who have shown us that they really like to work hard, and I'm anxious to see them play football.

"I like this football team. They've got to do things to help us like them day after day and handle all the adversity and handle all the success and the distractions along the way, but I'm anxious to watch them come together as a team."

It also marked the first practice for freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, formerly the nation's top-ranked recruit. Asked if he foresees Pryor taking snaps against the Penguins, Tressel found himself hard-pressed for an answer as practice got underway.

"Gosh, I don't know," he said. "I have not seen one ball thrown. I am anticipating that he's going to be a guy that has a passion to learn. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't help us.

"Which hand does he throw with? I haven't even seen him yet."

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