Some Buckeyes Thriving In Unique Roles

Plenty of the best-laid plans of Jim Tressel and his Ohio State coaching staff have not turned out the way they were intended for the 2008 Buckeyes, but lately they have been able to find a trio of experiments paying off as the season reaches the quarter pole.

When last seen in game action, the Ohio State defense was handcuffing the Penn State offense, which entered the contest ranked among the nation's leaders in several categories.

Much of the effort that helped hold the Nittany Lions – who won 13-6 thanks to a late 10-point flurry – well below their season averages in points per game and total yards came from the play of two players who were rarely seen last season and who are both in unique roles on coordinator Jim Heacock's defense.

Thaddeus Gibson made a living in the PSU backfield from his hybrid defensive end/linebacker position while Jermale Hines was effective as a defensive back with some of the duties of a linebacker.

The pair combined for nine tackles and logged Ohio State's only tackles for loss. Gibson had the team's only sack.

Gibson's speed and nonstop motor allowed him to wreak havoc against an accomplished Penn State offensive line, while Hines' versatility in the "star" role helped the Buckeyes match up with the Nittany Lions whether they were looking to run or pass in three-receiver sets.

On the season, Hines is Ohio State's seventh-leading tackler with 23 stops, including two for loss, and he has three pass breakups along with a pair of fumble recoveries.

Gibson is right behind Hines with 20 stops and leads the team with four sacks. He has a team-high six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery he returned for a touchdown against Michigan State.

"Thaddeus is an active guy," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday. "He plays both the end and one of those (guys in the) 30 front we call a viper, so there's a lot of dropping a lot of blitzing, a lot of playing gaps and so forth. Going into the Penn State game, the question was if he was going to be able to hold up against a power-type group, and I thought he have very active and held his own from that standpoint."

Hines got his first taste of serious action early in the season filling in for injured returning starter Kurt Coleman at safety.

Though Coleman reclaimed his spot when he returned to health, Hines showed enough ability that the coaches were convinced to keep finding ways to get him on the field, and he maintained his role as the fifth defensive back in the nickel package.

Both Hines and Gibson were part-time players early in the season but were able to be used on any down by the time the big clash with the Nittany Lions rolled around.

"I think when they come in the game they give the defense a different dimension," Coleman said. "They can spark the defense in so many ways, especially when it comes to third down plays. They both come in and they are ready to get after the QB because they've been sitting on the sideline and they're ready to get in and get after him. It's definitely been a pleasure for them to be on the field at the same time."

On the other side of the ball, Brandon Saine has been seen far less than Gibson or Hines have on defense, but he was a factor against the Nittany Lions as well.

Saine, a speedy sophomore who was Ohio's Mr. Football as a high school senior in 2006, caught a 20-yard pass during a third quarter drive that let Ohio State take its first and only lead, 6-3.

He lined up at fullback on the play before sneaking out of the backfield on a wheel route and hauling in the pass from Terrelle Pryor.

That was reminiscent of what fans saw in the BCS National Championship game against LSU in January and something that was expected to be a common sight all this season before a hamstring injury knocked Saine out of nearly all of preseason camp.

"Brandon's been evolving more into playing the fullback positions and slot positions and some slot things," Tressel said. "We think that he can do some of the things that a fullback needs to do, and so his evolution really is finding ways to get on field. He's on some special teams and so what you hope is that he's the kind of guy that can be on the field 25-plus plays a game because he can do a lot of different things.

"He is a threat as a pass receiver, but yet I also think it's not like you can say, ‘Well he's in at fullback and they can't run their ‘I' formation stuff,' because I think we can."

Senior tight end Rory Nicol is a believer in what the 6-1, 217-pound Saine can bring to the OSU offense when healthy.

"Brandon is dynamic," Nicol said. "Brandon can really play some fullback for us, in all honesty. He's tough. He's a pretty big kid. He's got big strong legs. He can do a lot. He's a good receiver. He can run the ball – we've seen that. And he's a great person."

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