<
>

Ohio State's Gibson eager to learn

4/29/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State defensive end Thaddeus Gibson recently found himself in a meeting room with co-defensive coordinators Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell, marveling at the dialogue. 

"I knew what they were saying, but it was like another language," Gibson recalled. "I walked out and went to the training room, and I came back and told [Heacock], 'If I can know the game how y'all know the game and explain it like y'all explain it, that's the key right there. The sky's the limit.'"

Most players need to be told about the game, what they need to do and how they're performing in games and practices, even when they would rather not hear it.

Gibson is just the opposite. 

The junior constantly hounds Heacock, asking for feedback after each practice. If Heacock gets a text message, odds are it's coming from Gibson.

Gibson's need for information might sound annoying, but as a veteran coach, Heacock loves it.

"I've coached for a long time but don't know if I've ever had a guy like him," Heacock said. "Every drill, he wants to know how he's doing, how he can do it better. Every practice, he's really interested in his performance and what I thought of it and how he can do better. Really a neat kid. He's just so focused on being as good as he can be." 

Gibson showed last season he can be pretty darn good. He led Ohio State in sacks (five) and ranked second in tackles for loss (nine), and he did most of his damage in Big Ten play, especially after starting end Lawrence Wilson sustained a torn ACL.

The 6-2, 240-pound Gibson started the final 10 games, and truly emerged in Week 7 against Purdue, recording a forced fumble, a sack, two tackles for loss and six total tackles. The next week he returned a Michigan State fumble 69 yards for a touchdown.

Despite playing most of the second half of the season with an ankle injury, Gibson finished strong with a sack and two tackles for loss in the Fiesta Bowl.

"I'm sure from a protection standpoint, [opponents] have to know where he's lining up," Heacock said. "He's got good quickness and good speed. He can come off the edge. He gives you a presence. Certainly if they're concerned about him in the pass rush, then your other guys have a little bit more of an opportunity, not getting doubled as much."

Gibson spent much of last season listening and learning from linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman. With both veterans gone, he uses Heacock as his primary resource. 

"I'm passionate about anything I do," Gibson said. "It just so happens football is No. 1 on the list. I just want to be the best. Picking his mind and knowing how he thinks can only make that dream of being the best a reality. With the text-messaging, I feel it's an easy way to get in contact with him and tell him how I feel."  

Before a recent practice this spring, Heacock asked Gibson if he was ready to have a good workout. 

"I'm told him, 'I'm going to ask you at the end to make sure I did,'" Gibson said. "So after practice, I'll look at him and if he gives me that smirk, it lets me know I did alright."

There are times when Gibson thinks he struggles, only to get positive feedback from Heacock on a certain technique or pass-rush move. But he's going to check and make sure no matter what.

Ohio State's defensive line enters the fall as one of the team's most seasoned groups, as four full- or part-time starters return. Gibson expects big things from himself and the group.

"We talk about it all the time," he said. "We go back to the national championship team in 2002. We had a great tailback, a great offense, but the defensive line, they were crazy in [the national championship game]. I think we've got that here now. We've just got to be dominant. They expect us to be dominant, and we should be."