Thursday, September 3, 2009
Buckeyes are younger but more prepared
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The most significant number during Ohio State's preseason wasn't 2 (Terrelle Pryor's jersey), 3 (consecutive BCS bowl losses), 4 (consecutive Big Ten titles) or 5 (consecutive wins against Michigan).
It was 37.
"We had 37 guys that are new to the team," senior safety and co-captain Kurt Coleman said. "There's a lot of things that we didn't know what to expect heading into camp, but during camp, we definitely jelled and we've gone after it. The younger guys are definitely ready to step up and make big plays."
Ohio State lost 12 starters from last year's team, including national award winners like linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, as well as offensive skill threats like Chris "Beanie" Wells and Brian Robiskie. Head coach Jim Tressel's Week 1 depth chart features 21 freshmen or sophomores in starting or backup roles.
Several true freshmen could see the field in Saturday's season opener against Navy (ESPN, noon ET), including wide receiver Duron Carter, fullbacks Zach Boren and Adam Homan, and offensive linemen Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley.
"This preseason was a little bit different than perhaps a year ago, when we had a lot of veterans," Tressel said. "We had a lot of kids coming back who knew why we did things and how we did and who could teach the group coming in. We didn't have quite the number of veterans in our camp [this year].
"So it certainly was a newer group."
As a result, the Buckeyes intensified their preparation for the season. The small group of seniors scheduled a Team Week (most called it Hell Week) midway through camp where all electronic devices -- cell phones, TVs, laptops -- were confiscated for a week as players spent all of their off-field time hanging out together and bonding.
There also were differences when the team hit the practice field.
"We definitely hit a lot more," Coleman said, "which is good. Usually we go into a season, and we're not really fully prepared for that first game. This year, we're definitely prepared for what we're about to go through. You go into the first week, you don't understand the game speed, you don't understand the real hitting of someone going live.
"Us hitting almost every day, it really conditions your body and conditions your mind."
Ohio State can't afford many growing pains from its young players this fall, especially with No. 4 USC looming in Week 2. Last year, the Buckeyes struggled through their pre-USC tune-up against Ohio, and didn't look much better the next week against the mighty Trojans.
A strong effort against Navy will be crucial, and Coleman expects a smooth transition from the team's underclassmen.
"I'm going to say this: The guys that play, they're ready," Coleman said. "I would think they were at least a year into the program, the way they play and the way their bodies are. It's amazing the way they came into camp ready to go."
This spring, Tressel discussed the importance of preventing a sense of entitlement from taking over the team. No players in the program have lost to Michigan or been on a team that failed to win at least a share of the league championship. Freshmen like Carter are joining a program used to dominating the Big Ten.
But Coleman and his fellow captains have ensured that the young players don't think success is automatic.
"We've told them several times that, this isn't easy," Coleman said. "This is going to be a long road and we're going to face a lot of adversity throughout this trip. We told them, 'What we've done in the past doesn't matter. That's not going to help us win.'
"It's tough helping them understand the troubles and the problems that we'll go through this season."