Buckeyes Cleared Hurdles Of Summer

It is an inevitable part of doing anything year-round, regardless of how enjoyable that activity might be: a growing sense of dissatisfaction. Ohio State senior safety Anderson Russell discusses how the Buckeyes blew through some tough early-summer times and emerged ready to go for fall camp.

If fall camp had started when Ohio State began gathering for summer workouts, the Buckeyes might have been in trouble.

Maybe it was the struggles that come with replacing a tight-knit group of players who had been team leaders for the past two seasons. Maybe it was the fact that a number of new faces were having a tough time adapting to new positions and new concepts. Maybe it was a simple case of hitting an inevitable rut that comes with training year-round for a sport.

Whatever it was, it had the 2009 version of the OSU football team going through the motions for the first few weeks of summer workouts.

"I think this summer we really started not slow, but everyone was just going through workouts," senior Anderson Russell said on the eve of the first day of practice. "I'm not really sure what it was. I don't know if it was workouts or what it was, but we're together now at the right time and that's all that matters."

If Russell's feelings are an accurate portrayal of the Buckeyes, then his assessment is correct. This year's OSU squad has to replace a well-publicized list of standout players from a 2008 team that brought home a co-Big Ten championship but suffered defeat in its two marquee out-of-conference games.

That process began in the days following the team's loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl and carried over to the spring, when the players went through their annual seasonal preparations that culminated with the spring game.

But if the spring game was a dress rehearsal for the regular season, the orchestra has started the overture for the main event and the performers are getting into character. Perhaps sensing that the season was going to start whether the Buckeyes were ready for it or not, Russell said the team's seniors stepped into the void.

"Probably the second or third weekend of the summer leaders really started to emerge on our team and I think we're starting to come together at the right time right now," he said.

That group has included the likes of fifth-year senior Todd Denlinger, who said he is excited for his turn to lead the team.

"I think this team showed a lot these last five weeks of the summer," he said. "We came a long way. The young guys really stepped up and matured. It was great to see me and my fellow seniors lead this team. It's been a fun summer to see that emergence."

Russell said he feels the team was able to turn a corner as 7-on-7 workouts progressed. The feelings of malaise did not affect play on the field, he said.

"Every time we came out for 7-on-7 we competed really well," he said. "At first we had to get the young guys going on offense because we have a lot of young receivers. We were always ready to go. After the first couple times we did that, they got the hang of things. We did a great job of competing this summer."

Denlinger credited last year's seniors as helping demonstrate what it takes to become a leader. After a blowout loss to USC derailed nearly all hopes of a third consecutive trip to the national title game, the Buckeyes dropped a tight night contest at home to Penn State that cost them a shot at an outright Big Ten title.

When things got tough down the stretch last year, though, Denlinger said it was the seniors who led the team out of the mess.

"I think the seniors got together and said we can take it one way or the other," he said. "We came to a fork in the road after a couple games and people decided to come together and I think they chose the right route."

That route has led to today's start of camp and included stops in the spring and summer. Regardless of what has transpired to get to this point, Denlinger said he knows that the real work is yet to be started.

"(We're) definitely more competitive and we showed a lot of maturity," he said. "As the summer started, we were looking for maturity and as it progressed, the younger guys really stepped up. The team moved in the right direction.

"The next three weeks are going to say a lot about our team."


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