Jard Work: Taking The Journey

Would Jim Tressel ever take his team on a journey similar to the one Ron Zook has taken his Fighting Illini this season? How hobbled is Marcus Freeman? Why does tails never fail? The answers to these questions and more are in this week's installment of "Jard Work."

It's a proposition that gets shot down before the question can even be asked.

This season, Illinois head coach Ron Zook has allowed the Big Ten Network to film some of the team's most innermost proceedings for a show titled "The Journey." With Ohio State headed west to play the Fighting Illini this weekend, the question was raised as to whether or not OSU head coach Jim Tressel would ever allow similar access to his program.

Not surprisingly, the answer was a quick "no" – typically before the topic can even fully be breached.

"We're so much about being a family, this tight-knit group of guys," senior tight end Rory Nicol said. "This is our business and our business is our business. I can't see him doing that. I think he likes to keep everything in-house and within the group of guys that are on this team."

Besides, Nicol added, all the funny stuff occurs in the locker room – an area guaranteed to be off-limits.

Tressel said he has not been approached by the network for such a show, saying he would decline even if he were.

"Anything that could distract what we're trying to do, I don't think helps," he said. "So most of the time I try to keep things we do toward how can it help us."

There is also the fact that the OSU program likely does not need any more exposure, whereas Zook is working to put his program back on the map – a situation Tressel alluded to.

"Maybe long-term something like that could help us because more exposure and all that, but I think about what's going on here now and what's the best thing for us today so I probably wouldn't (allow it)," he said.

Should cameras ever be allowed inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, however, senior linebacker James Laurinaitis said they would uncover all kinds of juicy stories.

"There's a ton of secrets about this place that you have no idea about," he said. "I just don't think that (Tressel) would like the distraction of having a camera always there and being behind the scenes. That's just the way he is."

Tails Never Fails: It has been one of the most hotly discussed issues surrounding the team during the week leading up to the Illinois game: Why does OSU almost always start games with the ball?

The reason has to do partially with luck and partially with design. When the Buckeyes win the coin toss, the decision has been made to receive rather than defer to the second half. According to Tressel, that strategy was adopted when kickoffs were moved back to the 30-yard line.

Now when they get the chance, the Buckeyes choose to try and start the game with the ball and in good field position.

"When the ball was being kicked from the 35 and so many balls were going as touchbacks, we didn't necessarily think that that's an advantage starting on the 20 so we thought, ‘Well, let's begin the game with some field position," Tressel said.

The Buckeyes have started all 10 games this season with the ball. Just three teams have won coin tosses against OSU this season – Youngstown State, USC and Minnesota – and each of them deferred to the second half.

When the Buckeyes get to pick heads or tails, they always go with tails and are 3-1 in doing so. Five of their 10 game-opening drives have resulted in touchdowns, and the other five have ended with punts.

As one of the team captains, Laurinaitis said he has studied the situation and that he is the one who calls tails before the game. The special coins used for the event make it tough to know who wins, he said.

"I can't really practice," he said. "All the different honorary captains' coins are different, with different weights, different everything. I haven't seen an actual regular coin ever used. The heads is like a center and the tails is like a rear end. I don't even know what's going on. I have to wait until he says what it is because I can't even tell the difference."

Freeman Ailing: Although his play has dropped off a bit in recent weeks, senior linebacker Marcus Freeman is actually healthier than he has been for much of the season, linebackers coach Luke Fickell said.

The reason for less playing time has had as much to do with Freeman's undisclosed lingering injury as it does the play of sophomore Ross Homan, who has been the primary beneficiary of the situation.

"It's a good situation," Fickell said. "Both of them need to play anyway, but it also helps you later in the year when things like this happen."

Although OSU's base defense calls for three linebackers, Homan and Freeman have to split time when the Buckeyes switch to nickel and put in an extra defensive back.

The two play so much that the coach said he often has to wait until Sunday to figure out which linebacker received the most action. Through 10 games, Freeman leads Homan in tackles by one, 61 to 60. The senior also has 3.5 sacks.

Fickell said Freeman's injury has never gotten to the point where he considered taking him out of the lineup.

"He's getting better," he said. "He has been really hobbled the last four or five weeks but he's grinding through it just like most people this time of year. He got hurt a little bit worse earlier in the year and I think that has really set him back a little bit. Each week he is getting better and better."

A Little Revenge: When the Buckeyes suffered their lone conference of the season last year at the hands of the Illini, it came on senior day at Ohio Stadium. This year's game between the two teams, ironically, will be played on senior day at Memorial Stadium.

Senior wide receiver Brian Robiskie downplayed any thoughts of exacting revenge in a situation similar to last season.

"That's all it is: a coincidence," he said. "Guys are excited for this opportunity, guys are excited to go on the road and play a great team like this. I can't wait for it. It definitely adds some hunger."

Adding to that, Nicol said he still winces when he thinks about last season's loss.

"You've got such a bad taste in your mouth when you think of Illinois," he said. "It's like they robbed us last year. They beat us and the thing they talked about last year was they were more physical than us and they ran all over our defense and our offense didn't really establish itself.

"Not that those things are very important, but when someone breaks into your house you're not going to be really happy about it, either."

Kicking And Punting: This season, true freshman Lamaar Thomas has given the OSU return game a much-needed shot in the arm after being moved to the position mid-season. Primarily a high school running back, Thomas figures to stay at the position as he continues to grow as a wide receiver.

"He reminds me a little bit of (Ted Ginn Jr.,)" said OSU wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell, who also coaches the team's kickoff return unit and the punt returners. "He's starting to see it better and better every week. He's starting to put his foot in the ground and starting to hit creases. He'll be a very good kick returner."

This season, Thomas leads the Buckeyes with eight returns for 191 yards – an average of 23.9 yards per return with a long of 37 yards. Last year, OSU averaged 17.6 yards per kick return.

Do not look for him to start working with the punt return team as well, however.

"Lamaar does not like to work at punt returns," Hazell said. "It's a whole different ball to catch. A totally different ball to catch."

One player who could factor into both return games is classmate DeVier Posey, who is working as OSU's fourth wide receiver right now. Hazell pegged Posey as a player who is going to have a special career as a Buckeye.

"He's got unbelievable explosion with the ball in his hands," Hazell said. "When he gets the ball, he's got great separation speed and he's got enough wiggle to make you miss and he's strong enough to break a tackle. He's got a lot of bounce."

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