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Tressel guarding against entitlement with OSU

4/16/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Midway through an interview Thursday, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel received a text message from former Buckeyes star James Laurinaitis.

Laurinaitis, a standout hockey player in high school growing up in Minnesota, was looking for tickets to a Columbus Blue Jackets NHL playoff game next week. Tressel and Laurinaitis were supposed to attend a Jackets' game together several weeks ago, but Laurinaitis backed out at the last minute to attend a family function in Dayton.

"He threw me under the bus," Tressel joked. "Now they're in the playoffs, so now he wants to go. I'm going to ignore him for a couple hours."

Laurinaitis had to suffer for a while, but he'll probably get his wish from Tressel. After everything he gave to Ohio State during the last five seasons, the linebacker deserves it.

Tressel's current players don't share the same sense of entitlement as Laurinaitis.

Ohio State got a lot younger during the offseason, and the spring depth chart is filled with underclassmen. Though the Buckeyes have won or shared the last four Big Ten titles and maintain the same expectation for 2009, championships don't just magically appear by wearing scarlet and gray.

"If we've got a room full of guys that think, 'Well, that's what you do. You come to Ohio State and you're Big Ten champs,' if that's the reality in their mind, then we're going to have a problem," Tressel said. "Because it is hard. People that know just how hard it is are gone. Because they're the ones that traversed that mountain.

"It's our job to get guys to understand how difficult it's been. It's not, 'Wish upon a star and I'm entitled to that.' That's the fun of raising kids up, helping them understand that goals are wonderful, but the plan and the action taken toward those goals it what it's all about."

Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has never seen a problem with work ethic during his tenure at Ohio State. But to hammer home the importance of going to work every year for a goal, he tells the defenders to simply look around.

"This year, it's easy," Heacock said. "You lose Malcolm [Jenkins] and you lose James [Laurinaitis] and you lose Marcus [Freeman], big production guys. You lose the key, main names that everybody has been hearing.

"And you end up with a group of guys, you had to use the cliché, no-names, but guys that don't have quite the reputation. This group is a very young group, but boy, they're energetic and they're anxious to learn."

Some other notes from my conversation with Tressel (who wore a pullover fleece, not a sweater vest), Heacock and several Buckeyes players.

  • There has been a lot of buzz about Ohio State overhauling the offense in Year 2 of the Terrelle Pryor era, but Tressel downplays the changes. Though a player like Pryor challenges the coaches to be more flexible, the Buckeyes won't look like a completely different offense in 2009. Running back Dan "Boom" Herron smiled and shook his head when I brought up the Wildcat offense, but he admitted the team continues to run some plays out of the pistol formation, which Ohio State used last fall.

"With Terrelle, you're tempted to say, 'Hey, I wonder if we can do this or that,'" Tressel said. "But you reign it back in and say, 'OK, let's look at the whole group. What are the things the whole group can be best at.' What is it that [Dane] Sanzenbacher does best? What it is that [DeVier] Posey does best? But we haven't gotten crazy."

  • Senior tackle Jim Cordle said the offensive line is ahead of where he thought it would be at this point after a "disappointing" 2008 performance. Cordle, a former center and left guard, is working at both tackle spots this spring but likely will line up on the right side. Former right tackle Bryant Browning moves to right guard, and Michigan transfer Justin Boren has all but locked up the left guard spot. Despite sophomore starting center in Mike Brewster and sophomore Mike Adams working at left tackle, the group is playing with more of an edge.

"Fights will break out and those types of things, but that's just how we compete now," Cordle said.

  • Heacock said Andre Amos is the frontrunner in the competition for the starting cornerback spot opposite Chimdi Chekwa, but Devon Torrence also has had a good spring. Safety Anderson Russell singled out redshirt freshman cornerback Travis Howard and safety Orhian Johnson for their performances this spring.

  • Ohio State has been relatively injury-free this spring. Pryor is fine after overworking his throwing arm, and safety Kurt Coleman returned to practice Tuesday after an ankle problem. Sanzenbacher has a high ankle sprain.

  • Before our interview Heacock was watching film of NFL defenses scoring touchdowns and planned to make a highlight tape for his players. He also has a sign in his office that reads: "No Ohio State team has defeated Michigan 5 times in a row," with the 5 crossed out and replaced by a 6. Interesting.