Tressel Press Conference Wrap-Up

Jim Tressel

At his weekly press conference, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel discussed injury updates, quarterback Troy Smith running the ball more lately, the rise of Malcolm Jenkins as one of the top cornerbacks in college football and much more. A spokesman for OSU also discussed the problems with the grass field at Ohio Stadium. (Updated at 2:30 EST with Big Ten teleconference notes.)

Ohio State's Tuesday press luncheon began with comments from Dr. John Street – assistant professor and turf grass science specialist – on the problems with the playing surface at Ohio Stadium.

Street attributed the problems to abnormal weather conditions in October – more rainfall than usual and temperatures 10 degrees below the average.

"We are in the process of installing new sod that we got here in Columbus from East Side Nursery," Street said. "We want to provide the Ohio State football team with best possible playing surface. We will have the new sod installed by hopefully Friday and we don't anticipate any problems leading up to the Michigan game on Nov. 18."

Head coach Jim Tressel then began with a look ahead at the Buckeyes' opponent this week, Illinois. The Fighting Illini (2-7, 1-4 Big Ten) are coming off their most impressive performance of the season in a 30-24 loss at Wisconsin.

"They also played Penn State right off their feet and was nose to nose," Tressel said. "I think the score ended up one thing (26-12) but it was a 17-12 game and then an onsides kick was returned for a touchdown. I think Penn State rushed the ball for 40 yards and Illinois rushed it for over 200. If you really watch the film, you can see that conceptually they are starting to understand what a new coaching staff a year ago was establishing. You can see the culture they are trying to create. They have a very aggressive defense that puts a lot of pressure on you.

"Offensively, they spread you out all over the field. They are a big play team. Their freshman quarterback, Isaiah Williams, has at least four touchdowns over 60 yards throwing, and does a great job with his feet as well. He's a guy that we recruited very hard and he's a student of the game and is a good football player that can make things happen."

Tressel also gave an injury update on the top-ranked Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0).

"Mo Wells and (Anthony) Gonzalez I would say for sure, unless something in practice happens," he said. "The only two I have concerns that I would call questionable would be (Quinn) Pitcock and Alex Boone. I suppose you could say Derek Harden is out, he was a special teams guy for us, but other than that, we're at pretty full strength. I would like to think we'll know by Wednesday or Thursday on those guys, but they aren't going to practice for a couple days in hopes of being just fine.

"David Patterson came out of it well and played 47 snaps maybe and graded well, played well and felt good. So, I think for this point in the year, going into game 10, I feel good about our health.

"Ray Small probably won't play this week, but he's getting along just fine."

Tressel was asked to specify Boone's injury.

"Am I allowed to say? I don't think so," he said. "He won't practice today."

Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith has been one of the most prolific passers in college football all season, but just recently started to re-invent himself as a runner. Against Minnesota last week, Smith carried six times for 43 yards and scored his first rushing TD on the season with an impressive 21-yard jaunt.

"I don't know if he was hesitant to run (earlier in the year), he just had some guys open," Tressel said. "We always told him to get it to those guys that are faster than you. When one of those guys isn't open and the right decision is to step up and go, let's go.

"We probably haven't run as many designed quarterback runs as we have in the past. I think you can trace that to a couple things. One, I think we're deeper at tailback than we were. There was a time in '04 as Troy's first year as the starting quarterback where we were banged up at tailback and he was our running back at times because we were hurt, because that's what the team needed. As the receivers have grown and so forth he's been able to throw the ball more from that position. But I don't think he's hesitant, he looked excited when he scored that touchdown."

Tressel also discussed sophomore cornerback Malcolm Jenkins who is establishing himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the country. "Malcolm comes from a highly-competitive program in high school," Tressel said. "Piscataway, New Jersey, won three straight state titles when he was there and the expectations of learning the game at Piscataway are high. He came in here with a lot of understanding of the game of football, locked in to study it even more as to how we used our terminology. He has a lot of confidence and I think Malcolm Jenkins is going to keep getting better and better and is going to be an outstanding corner."

Ohio State's defense was the big question mark entering the season, but thanks to contributions from a bevy of young players, the defense is once again one of the best in the nation. Tressel was asked if he expected so many freshmen and sophomores to contribute this year.

"Oh, they had to," Tressel said. "Two things had to happen: the older guys had to go a great job of leading because they've experienced so much and they have so much to offer. And then there were going to have to be some other guys to step up and be ready to be college football players. And you take guys like James Laurinaitis and Ross Homan, Donald Washington, Andre Amos, Jamario O'Neal, Malcolm had played significantly. But Vernon Gholston, who hadn't played a whole lot, was going to have to evolve. And what I like about this group is everybody seems to want to do what the team needs done. Now what the team needs done right now is to have a great practice today and enter November with the proper mindset of how good we have to be. But thus far, they've been very willing to do what needs to be done."

The Buckeyes continue to use a deep rotation on their offensive line, at times substituting the entire first unit with the second line. Tressel was asked why he feels the needs to still play the backup linemen so much at this late stage of the season.

"I think it just became one of those things that, hey, that's what we're going to do," he said. "I'm not sure it has that much science to it. Unfortunately on Saturday, we fouled up their drive because we fumbled on the first play. But I just think we're comfortable with it and sometimes if you don't make yourself do something, you won't do it. You'll turn around and gosh, the game is over and we didn't have opportunities to get guys in.

"And as I mentioned to this group going into the Texas game when we were first planning on doing it is that (offensive line coach) Jim Bollman kind of grew up that way. When he was at the University of Virginia he was forced to do it. That what George Welsh made them do. So, he had done that before and he had never been willing to do it here until it became a little bit of a heat discussion. And then all of a sudden we did pretty well, so I think he got a little bit of confidence in it and we've continued to do it."

Tressel was asked if it's "odd to put faith in five backups to protect best player in college football (Smith)."

"Well, certainly if he got hurt I would get asked that question," he said. "I think if you ask them to do what they can do … on the other hand, I'm sure you would have the argument that if you didn't ever put those guys in and then someone turned their ankle, then the first group would say, ‘Was that responsible to not give anyone time who was going to have to someday be in there and protect the top quarterback in college football?' So, you just hope you're not at the wrong end of those discussions."

Tressel also discussed the progress of sophomore linebacker Marcus Freeman who is now seeing most of his snaps at the weakside position. Freeman seems to be playing his best football of the season.

"He's moved around a little bit and probably been at three different spots," Tressel said. "He's a pretty flexible guy because he's been here three years and he's had a lot of experiences at different positions. But his contribution starts with knowledge and then it goes to speed. Then it goes to production. One of the things I hear (linebackers coach) Luke Fickell talking a lot about is really what it's all about at that position is to produce and he's done a good job producing. On our production chart, he may be second or third right now behind (James) Laurinaitis and Antonio Smith is in there somewhere."

Freshman tailback Chris Wells is enjoying a very productive first season for the Buckeyes. He is a load to bring down and is always moving the pile. But the one negative aspect of Wells' game this year has been ball security with three lost fumbles. Tressel was asked what he can do to rectify the situation.

"Tell him to hold tighter," he said. "It's got to be the most important thing in the world at that moment is to hand that ball to the official. If that's the most important thing in the world, then I think you have a chance to do it."

Tressel was asked if he would be comfortable playing Wells in the Michigan game in two weeks.

"Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely."

Players Of The Week

Tressel also announced OSU's players of the week. They included: Drew Norman (special teams), Antonio Smith (defense), Marcus Freeman (attack force), Antonio Pittman (offense), T.J. Downing (Jim Parker offensive lineman), Will Crall (scout special teams), Walter Dublin (scout defense) and Ryan Franzinger (offense). There was not a Jack Tatum hit of the week.


Big Ten teleconference wrap-up

OSU head coach Jim Tressel opened his segment of today's Big Ten weekly coaches teleconference with a statement about upcoming opponent Illinois.

"I've really been impressed watching Illinois' development," Tressel said. "I think Coach Zook and his staff have done an excellent job. They've got a young group that is coming together and making plays and starting to take hold of the concepts Coach Zook and his staff are bringing to the program. I know it will be a great challenge."

The Fighting Illini stand at 2-7 for the season but have shown vast improvement from last year's team, shown most recently by going on the road and giving a one-loss Wisconsin team all they could handle. Illinois head coach Ron Zook was asked about the improvement of his team during his portion of the teleconference and admitted that this year's squad has fared much better.

"I think number one, we said it at the beginning of the year we felt we were going to be a much-improved football team and we didn't know if that was going to show up in the win-loss column or not, and obviously it is not," Zook said. "But there's no doubt in our mind that we are a much-improved team.  I said when I took the job, when I was asked what I was concerned with the most was attitude, and that's probably the hardest thing to get turned. Winning is a habit, unfortunately so is losing. To get that habit changed, you have to change attitudes. We've changed it by bringing in a whole bunch of new attitudes and also continue to pound the things that we believe into the guys that are here.

"The players have done a remarkable job, they really have. They're trying to do everything we ask of them and we're really proud of them. Once again, it's going to happen, we just have to stay the course."

The Buckeyes travel to Champaign on Saturday to face the Illini in their second-to-last road game of the year. The last time OSU went to Illinois was in 2002, and the Buckeyes wound up facing an Illini squad that gave their national championship team all they could handle. OSU head coach Jim Tressel may remind his team of that game this week.

"We really haven't talked about it much yet at all because yesterday was our players' day off, and so we haven't had a chance to be with them this week," Tressel said. "I think every time you talk about your upcoming opponent, you try to put a little perspective into the tradition of their program. If it's someone in your league, you don't have to try to hard because they know full well about those guys. But absolutely it was a tremendous football game the last time we were there. We had to knock down a pass in overtime to survive it." 

A big reason for the improvement of Illinois has been the emergence of freshman quarterback "Juice" Williams, whom the Buckeyes heavily recruited as well.

"He has a great grasp of the game," Tressel said. "I think it starts there, and he enjoys the game. He enjoys the competitiveness of football. He's got great stature and athletic ability, and he's blessed with a fine arm. He absolutely was at the top of our recruiting board, and I think he's going to be a fine quarterback."

Tressel gave his impression on the progress Williams has had as a freshman.

"I think his staff has done a nice job of giving him bits and pieces of the package and making sure that he understands the whys and the wherefores before they move to the next step," Tressel said. "I think that's good teaching, and I think that Coach Zook and his staff have done a good job in bringing him along. You're going to hear a lot about that young man in the years to come."

Ron Zook was asked his thoughts on how he felt when the decision was made to make Williams the starter, which is a similar move he made with quarterback Chris Leak while he was coaching Florida.

"I think the number one thing is you really don't know how he's going to handle the pressure," Zook said. "You think you do, but until they are put into the fire, you really don't know. His expression was a lot like Chris Leak's was when we did it with him, and that's 'Ok, let's go.' It wasn't a big deal, and with Juice it was the same kind of way. Not that he expected it, but he was prepared and ready for it. I think the way that he has handled the pressures and continued to improve -- he has not lost confidence and gets better every week -- it's what we thought, but until you're put into that situation, you really don't know."

Meanwhile, Zook paid plenty of compliments to the Ohio State team the Illini will be facing this week.

"Obviously (we're) out of the frying pan and into fire, playing a very, very good Wisconsin team and getting ready to play the best team in the land, and deservedly so -- a very well-coached athletic football team that our guys are looking forward to the opportunity to play," Zook said.

Zook was asked his thoughts on why Ohio State's defense is statistically better than last year's defense despite the reputation the 2005 team had for an outstanding defense.

"I think it's more than just statistically," Zook said. "I think last year's defense, no question, was a great, great defense. One of the reasons they were a great defense is they played together for so long and they were all one. This year they got some new faces in there. They were able to get a lot of experience because the way the games turned out last year, and these guys in a lot of instances may be a little bit more athletic. They're just a very, very good football team. They keep them fresh; they roll them in there, particularly the defensive linemen. They're a force to be reckoned with."

Zook also commented on the Buckeye offense. 

"They have so many weapons on offense," he said. "The offense, in my opinion, is probably better than they were last year and it's the same kind of thing because they've all played together another year. With the receivers, who do you stop? The quarterback, you better worry about the running backs... there's so many weapons that you can't say 'we're going to stop him' or 'we're going to stop him' because they'll come back with something else. I think that's probably one of the reasons why maybe Troy hasn't run the ball quite as much this year is the fact that he is standing in the pocket and really becoming an awfully, awfully good quarterback. Rather than take off and run, he's going to stick the ball in there. They really cause you some problems with the number of athletes they have."

There are plenty of people that think the next two games will be blowouts for Ohio State, including this week's game at Illinois. Tressel was asked about keeping his team focused.

"I think you have to say it every day, playing at a high level today in practice," he said. "If you're going to keep improving, you have to do it daily. Whether you are old people or young people alike, I think you need reminded."

Tressel talked about a number of other topics as well. One topic was freshman running back Chris Wells, who has had some problems with fumbles this season. But Tressel said that Wells will continue to get his share of carries.

"I think Chris is going to be an outstanding back, and the only way he can grow through that is keep getting hit," he said. "I think in most of those cases, it was a pretty physical point and he didn't keep the leverage on the football that you need to have. I think the only way he'll become the guy who does that every time is if he just keeps getting to play, so we're going to keep handing the ball to Chris Wells."

Tressel was also asked his thoughts on the OSU playing field, which was in poor shape during Saturday's home game against Minnesota despite being recently replaced and is being replaced once again.

"I'm not real concerned," Tressel said. "I'm not the guy that has to do it. I feel bad for our groundspeople because it's been a very strange late summer and total fall with the amount of rainfall we've had and strange temperatures and just been an unusual situation. They've gone through all different kinds of gyrations. Our goal is to have the best possible surface we can have for every game, and there's only so many windows in the year that you can make the changes that we're making, but it doesn't concern me because we're going to Illinois to play on artificial turf."

Other Notes:

  • Tressel was asked if he has coached this team differently than he normally would due to the number of seniors. "We're probably coaching pretty much the same as we always have because you're always going to have a blend of various ages," he said. "There's a certain number of people who are here for the first time and are starting from square one, and there's a group of people who have had a few experiences but they haven't been as real life as the ones as those guys that have been here five years. We hope to coach our older guys to bring along our younger guys and every meeting room, you're teaching at the level of the slowest learner because you can't leave anyone behind. So it just depends upon what's being covered and so forth, but we're not doing things dramatically different."
     
  • Tressel was asked his thoughts on how much of a pleasure it has been to teach Troy Smith. "I think any teacher really enjoys a student who has a thirst for the knowledge of what's being taught, and in Troy, he just has a thirst for the knowledge," he said. "He just enjoys it, as does Justin. Those guys in that quarterback room, I know Joe Daniels enjoys the heck of the way they look at things. Of course, there's younger guys like Robby Schoenhoft and Antonio Henton who are right now at a different stage, but yet their thirst for knowledge is the same, and you like it when your classroom is full of people interested in learning.
     
  • A reporter asked Tressel a question about the 12-game schedule and if he would favor extending it a week into Thanksgiving in order to give his players a bye week. "I wouldn't be in favor of that," Tressel said. "We ask so much of our kids, and to not allow them to go home for Thanksgiving, to me wouldn't be my vote. Now if we stretch the season a week earlier and have a bye, I could live with that a little bit. But the bye, whether you have one or you don't, every week is difficult. If you're in an open week it's difficult because of the demands on these kids and the coaches and just the pace at which college football goes, so I could live with an earlier start and a bye, or I could live with 12 straight."
     
  • Tressel was asked a question on scheduling and Ohio State's intersectional matchups and how important it was for college football to have such games as Ohio State-Texas.

    "Well, I've never really looked at it from the vantage point is how much is it needed to sort out the best teams," Tressel said. "The reason we want to do it is for the experiences of the student athlete. For instance, the kids in our program who just got to finish a home-and-home with Texas, it's something they'll remember the rest of their lives. We're finishing a home-and-home with Washington next year; the first part of it was in '03, and we travel to Seattle next year. Then we start a home-and-home with Southern Cal, then we've got Miami (Fla.) home-and-home, then we have Virginia Tech. We've done so not necessarily to sort out who the best teams are, but to give our kids experiences in those marquee-type games, and I think it's been a great experience for them.

    "Our goal in philosophy and scheduling is to have no less than seven home games and then if we are on the away side of our marquee home-and-home, then we'll have seven home and five away, kind of like this year has been for us. Then on those alternate years, our goal would be to have eight home and four away. That's when you talk about the revenue that's so important. A program like ours with 36 sports is very expensive to maintain, so we just kind of put together a philosophy and try to follow it."

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