Jard Work: Coming Out Of The Booth

The return of football season means a return of BuckeyeSports.com staff writer Adam Jardy's weekly Jard Work notebook. The first edition of the 2009 looks at linebackers coach Luke Fickell moving closer to the field, what the offense feels it can do well and more.

Luke Fickell will have a closer view of Ohio State games this year, but what sort of impact will it have on the Buckeyes?

At his weekly Tuesday press luncheon, OSU head coach Jim Tressel confirmed that Fickell and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock would be trading places on gameday. Fickell, the linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator, will now be on the sidelines while Heacock will get a birds-eye view of games from the press box.

"Some people feel as if they can see it much better upstairs," Tressel said. "Other people feel as if they need to feel the game from the side line, it's a little more difficult to feel it from upstairs."

Neither coach was made available to the media this week, but cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said the move will not change the chain of command when it comes to calling a defense.

"They wanted to try it out," Johnson said. "We have the same type of communication in terms of the front and the secondary. It's just an experiment that they both ended up liking pretty good and we're going to stick with it."

Johnson said all four defensive coaches are vocal while on the headsets trying to set up the team's defense on a given play but that the final decision comes down to Heacock and Fickell.

Although Fickell did turn down overtures to take a coaching job at Notre Dame during the offseason, this move likely has more to do with the units both coaches oversee than any sort of reward for loyalty.

The published two-deep for the linebacker position boasts three sophomores and just one senior, while a few true freshman look to earn playing time there this season as well. Conversely, four fifth-year seniors and another true senior help to anchor the defensive line.

"I think (Fickell) can calm a lot of guys down and show you what you're doing wrong, be there to draw it up and show you what you're doing wrong or what you need to do," said Austin Spitler, the lone senior at linebacker. "I think it will be beneficial."

Fifth-year senior defensive lineman and team captain Doug Worthington said he feels the line is mature enough to handle the change. Classmate and defensive tackle Todd Denlinger said that the need for extra leadership was not explicitly spelled out to the linemen.

"It's going to be a little bit different but he's putting it on us seniors on the defensive line to be that role to get in some guys' heads and get the most out of them," Denlinger said. "It's definitely just something that you've got to realize. We have five seniors that are going to be on that sideline and we've got to do everything we can to make sure we're doing our best."

Being closer to the action will not change Fickell's approach, Johnson said.

"He was still yelling at guys from the press box," he said. "I'm sure they could still hear him. I have to make sure he doesn't grab them."

Run! What does this OSU offense know it can do well as the 2009 season dawns?

That question was posed to both offensive lineman Jim Cordle and tight end Jake Ballard, and they had the same response: this team will be able to run the football.

"I know we're going to be able to run the ball," Ballard said. "Our O-line is stepping up and we're going to be as good as we've ever been this year."

That sentiment does not come as a major surprise. During fall camp, Tressel said he was pleased with the offensive line's development from a run-blocking standpoint while the pass blocking still needs some improvement.

Cordle did not necessarily disagree with that standpoint. Asked to name one thing he knows the offense can do, he immediately responded, "We can run the ball."

He then paused for a second before adding, "We can throw the ball too. We can do anything, I guess. We're a good offense. I guess if we had to hang our hat on something we would hang it on our power play just like we have for years now."

Asked the same question, Tressel responded with a broader answer.

"I think we're playing with a little more confidence now that we've played together a little more," he said. "I don't know that I could truly answer that until we do it against someone and it's for real and it's every down and distance."

The First Time: When the Buckeyes run out onto the field for the first time Saturday, they will be doing so in front of what could prove to be a record-setting crowd in Ohio Stadium.

That means that the 24 true freshmen on scholarship will likely have wide eyes as their cleats hit the turf. As the upperclassmen on the team can attest, a first game in the Horseshoe is a memorable experience.

"You can't really simulate running out of the tunnel with 105 (thousand) screaming," senior safety Kurt Coleman said. "You can not simulate that. I think the nerves might be wracking a little bit but they'll be excited. I think the coaches do a great job of preparing them, and they have enough talent to go out there and just play. Once they step on the field it's all about playing the game of football."

That feeling translates to the coaching staff as well. Johnson is the most recent addition to Tressel's coaching staff, having joined in March of 2007.

"As you walk through and talk to those younger guys and try to coach them up on how things are going to be, even for me my first year you don't know until you go through it," he said. "You can see it and watch it and talk about it but once they go through it that first time then they'll go, ‘Oh, OK. I'm at Ohio State.' It's pretty special. The anticipation is definitely there."

Spitler Healthy: After waiting four years for his chance to play for the Buckeyes, Spitler had to be worried when he went down with an injury during camp.

The linebacker is fully healthy now and ready for the season, but the leg injury he suffered caused a brief moment of panic for the fifth-year senior.

"I had pain in my knee and then it moved to the back of my knee and one day it was feeling a little tight and it popped when I was pass rushing," he said. "Obviously it was hard not knowing what was wrong. I was relieved after I got the MRI and it showed that I had just strained my calf.

"It was scary. I've been through all these hard times and it's supposed to be my year and now I get hurt again. The rehab went well and I'm good to go now."

Now that he is healthy, Spitler said he has found a silver lining in the injury.

"I really have the mind set that everything happens for a reason," he said. "This could be a blessing in disguise, letting the body recover a little bit. It's non-stop pounding and we're working so hard in the summer and off-season workouts straight into camp, just beating each other up, so maybe it's good that I had some time to let my body rest."


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