While manning a defensive front that figures to be the stalwart of the Ohio State defense this year, Heacock is counting on continued development from Gibson. In the first period of extended playing time in his OSU career, Gibson ended the 2008 season with a team-high five sacks while starting the final 10 games of the year.
This year, he figures to play a more prominent role on the defense provided he can show improvement in one key area, and that topic has been the subject of numerous text messages between player and coach.
"He texts me about every other hour asking what he can do to be a better run defender, so he's really working on that," Heacock said. "He's very connected. At least a couple times a day he'll text me: ‘I'm watching film, I did this, I did that.' He's really working hard to be as good as he can be."
Now listed at 6-2, 240 pounds, Gibson finished with 26 tackles, nine of which were for loss. He grew into a greater role as the year went on, averaging 9.3 minutes of action in the first three games before averaging 17.6 minutes of playing time in his 10 starts.
However, when Gibson entered the game, it primarily would come in obvious passing situations. In order to become an every-down player this year, Gibson said he knows he needs to be able to be counted upon to stop the run.
In trying to become that type of player, Gibson sounds like an apprentice constantly seeking approval from his master.
Asked what he asks Heacock when he texts him, Gibson said, "Just, ‘How was it today, coach? What do you think I need to work on tomorrow? How did I look today? How was my anticipation today?' Just picking his mind and picking his brain will help me."
Gibson said he is working on things such as his hand placement on tight ends, how he drives his feet and when to expect the run. A key element is recognizing down and distance, he said.
Whether stopping the run or affecting the pass, Gibson said there is one constant for a defender.
"It's about being aggressive and trying to destroy the guy in front of you," he said.
The goal is to become a player similar to Vernon Gholston, an OSU defensive end who set a program record with 14.0 sacks during his junior season.
"Him and I have talked a lot about how you can't just run upfield and try to get sacks; you've got to play football," Heacock said. "You've got to be able to recognize the run more quickly. Probably recognition more than anything. It's one thing to say, ‘I'm going to come off the edge and get a sack' and then they run the draw or run the ball and you're out of position."
This spring, Gibson is aided by the fact that he is fully healthy after playing most of the second half of the season with an ankle injury.
"He played the whole second half of the season last year where he wasn't very healthy," Heacock said. "He's moving around a little bit better and getting better."
Now healthy, Gibson said he is working on developing a number of new moves to harass opposing ballcarriers and quarterbacks. The goal is to have a repertoire of moves and the knowledge of when to use them, he said.
In addition, this is now just his second full season as a defensive end. After entering OSU as a linebacker, Gibson primarily lined up there during his first two seasons before permanently making the move closer to the line of scrimmage last season.
It has been an adjustment for the native of Euclid, Ohio, who said he grew up picturing himself as a middle linebacker in the NFL while idolizing the likes of A.J. Hawk. Now a defensive end, Gibson has embraced the change.
"The position I'm playing, I love it," he said. "I wouldn't play another position. There's just something about it. It's just me, pass rushing, playing over the tight end is something I love to do."
If he learns what he needs to know from Heacock and continues to develop this year, Gibson said he is aware that a breakout season could put him on the radar of NFL teams. However, he has one simple, primary goal as he gets ready for his junior season.
"Destroy everything moving," he said with a smile.