Jard Work: Steering The Ship

Did Darrell Hazell really call some plays in Ohio State's win against Toledo? What does it take to be a freshman standout for the Buckeyes, and which players have impressed along those lines this year? Who looks like Santonio Holmes on the team? The answers to these questions and more are in the latest installment of 'Jard Work.'

Who is running this ship, exactly?

One week after Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel came under fire for perceived conservative play calling during the team's loss to USC, the Buckeyes put up a 38-0 victory against Toledo and seemingly quieted the critics – for a week, at least.

But now the question of who is calling the plays is again being revisited, and the final picture is decidedly cloudier than in the past.

Tressel has insisted that he has no plans to ever give up the reins of the offense, arguing that he would serve little purpose to the team if he did so. On Wednesday, wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell was asked if he had called some of the plays in the win against the Rockets.

"I don't know," he said with a grin. "I'm not sure."

After the laughter died down in the interview room, Hazell was asked if he would have been sure of his answer in past years.

"You're confusing me," he said, his grin not diminishing one bit.

One reporter pointed out that it appeared OSU sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor had been seeking out Hazell on the sidelines during the game and not Tressel. In addition, it was pointed out that the list of plays remained firmly planted in Tressel's pants pocket for much of the game in contrast to other contests the Buckeyes have played in recent years.

Asked about the situation one day later, Tressel said nothing had changed as far as the team's play calling goes.

"Oh sure," he said when asked if Hazell had called some plays against Toledo. "Absolutely."

However, the coach added that this posed no change from previous years. Before each snap, the offensive coaches all submit their input on what the Buckeyes should do and a conclusion is reached.

According to Tressel, this makes for a less-than-stressful situation for himself.

"I've got an easy job: ‘what do you guys want?' " he said. "I have the easiest job of them all."

Or at least, that's the story on the record.

Youth Is Served: The Buckeyes annually bring in some of the top talent in the country, but not all of that talent finds a way onto the field as freshmen. According to linebackers coach Luke Fickell, it takes a special kind of player to show the coaches that he can have a major impact in his first year.

It all starts with trust.

"You know all these guys here can play," he said. "We recruited them. They've all got ability. The next step is that confidence factor, that trust factor that the whole group has to have in them."

One player who has earned that level of trust is defensive tackle Johnny Simon. The former five-star prospect has cracked the line's rotation and has recorded three tackles in the first three games of the season. Both Fickell and Tressel have praised his work ethic and cited him as one of the most dedicated members of the team.

Entering the program as a third- or fourth-string lineman did not change Simon's focus, Fickell said.

"It's rare to have the maturity along with the intensity," he said. "A lot of guys come in here with great abilities and sometimes it's easy to get them in the spot where their abilities can play, but to get somebody to come in and who's mature enough to battle through and be a third- or fourth-team guy, sometimes that's the things you don't know about a guy, that true maturity level."

Another freshman who has impressed is linebacker Storm Klein, a former four-star prospect. The Newark (Ohio) Licking Valley native is listed as the backup to Brian Rolle at middle linebacker.

"He's doing a good job," Fickell said. "Again, he's got to make some plays and he's going to have people pushing him. He's got to start making some plays on special teams and keep doing what he's doing"

Linebacker Etienne Sabino was a five-star prospect in the class of 2008, but he remains behind senior captain Austin Spitler at the strong-side linebacker spot despite having made an impact on special teams as a freshman last season. Fickell said Sabino – like other young players – simply needs to wait his turn until he gets an opportunity.

Then he must seize upon it.

"He's young," Fickell said. "It's going to be when his opportunity comes, he's got to grab it. Most of these guys all made their names on special teams. We just keep preaching over and over to our guys that that's something you've got to keep showing up on."

Down But Not Out: When the season began, junior wide receiver Taurian Washington sat perched third on the depth chart. Now a quarter of the way through the year, he has slid all the way down to sixth and fans are quick to point to a pair of drops in the season-opening win against Navy as the reason.

According to wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell, there is more to the story. The same goes for sophomore Lamaar Thomas, who has failed to make an impact at wide receiver so far.

"I think their game-day performance has to be a little better," Hazell said. "The other players are good. That's part of it too. I like the way Ray (Small) is emerging and Duron (Carter) is emerging. Taurian is going to keep battling. He's slid down the depth chart a little bit, but we've talked and he'll keep battling.

"It wasn't the drops that hurt him. It was probably some of the other things that did it. It wasn't the drops. One was a clear drop. These other guys are getting pretty good right now."

Washington was one of two wide receivers in the class of 2007 and was ranked higher (40) than Dane Sanzenbacher (58), although both were four-star prospects. Sanzenbacher has established himself as the team's top wideout this season while Washington has largely languished on the sidelines.

For that, Hazell credited Sanzenbacher's mental makeup and ability to grasp the team's concepts from the get-go, citing him as having caught on quicker than any other wideout he has taught.

In Thomas' case, the Maryland native is still learning the wide receiver position after having primarily played running back in high school.

It has all added up to a little bit of frustration that has since been dealt with, Hazell said.

"Lamaar's not (down) at all," the coach said. "Taurian probably was a first, but now he's back in good spirits."

High Praise: Taking a redshirt as a freshman does not mean a player can not make an impact on his coaches.

On Tuesday, Tressel singled out wide receiver Chris Fields as being similar to a former Buckeye now making waves in the NFL.

"I definitely told Darrell Hazell and those guys more than once that Chris reminds me of the way that Santonio (Holmes) looked as a freshman," the head coach said. "Over there on the scout team, making plays, just has that certain something about him and I tell Chris that too. I mean, that's who he reminds me of.

"I think Chris Fields is going to be a good football player and we'll see if he gets to the Santonio Holmes level. Santonio obviously climbed, but at this moment, I've got a lot of good feel about what he's going to become."

Asked for his reaction to that comment, Hazell said, "I wasn't at that conversation. We've both recognized Chris has a lot of ability. He's going to be pretty good. That's a good get for us."

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