Anxious. Champing at the bit. Ready to go.
All of the above statements describe the mentality of the Ohio State football team as the Buckeyes get ready to host Youngstown State this weekend. Game week has arrived in Columbus, and the No. 2/3 team in the nation is preparing to open a season against the Penguins for the second consecutive season.
First, though, is one more week of practice – what head coach Jim Tressel describes as one of the longest weeks of the year for his charges.
“When preseason ends, you feel like, ‘OK, it’s time to play a game,’ ” he said at his first weekly media luncheon. “Then all of a sudden, you line up and you practice four more times. By about Thursday they’ll be so tired of practicing that they’ll be ready to go.”
When they are ready to go, it appears the Buckeyes will be minus just one player from the active roster. Senior offensive lineman Kyle Mitchum continues to recover from a foot injury suffered during camp and will not be available, but Tressel said other players nursing injuries have “miraculously” been healed with a real game looming.
Those players include Brandon Saine, one of the team’s primary kick returners and a player who figures to see significant action in the backfield as well. As Saine has nursed a hamstring injury throughout fall camp, he has seen his reps diminish in the backfield to the point where he is not currently listed on the depth chart at that position.
He is now between 95 and 100 percent, Tressel said.
“He’s missed practice time, and practice is critical, but he’s going to be able to ease his way back into it,” the coach said.
Junior defensive lineman Doug Worthington’s status is apparently nearing resolution as well. After being arrested and charged with OVI during the summer, last year’s primary starter at one of the defensive tackle positions has been in limbo ever since. Now, according to Tressel, the situation has been resolved from an institution standpoint, but Worthington is apparently still working his way back into the good graces of the coaching staff.
“He’ll be suited up and ready, but I’m not sure when he’ll play, Tressel said.
Still uncertain is the future of sophomore cornerback James Scott, who did not report to camp with the Buckeyes and was not included on the 105-man roster.
“James didn’t report to camp,” Tressel said. “Outside of that, I can’t give an update. He’s not with us.”
In YSU, the Buckeyes will be again facing a team from the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as I-AA. Last year, OSU defeated the Penguins at Ohio Stadium by a 38-6 count.
Tressel said he is not worried about his team overlooking YSU despite having a nationally televised showdown against USC scheduled for week three.
“The thing we talk about with our guys is managing expectations, and the only way you can manage expectations is to focus on what’s going on this moment,” Tressel said. “If you don’t, you’re not going to get better, and if you don’t get better you’re not going to reach your potential. Then you’re not going to manage the expectations.
“I hope the maturity of the team and listening to the guys talk to the younger guys about what needs to be done and that anxiousness that I feel our guys have about wanting to get better, that hopefully that will allow us in every ballgame to stare right at that game.”
This is the last game currently scheduled against the Penguins, and Tressel was noncommittal about adding them to the docket in future years. If the teams were to reprise the series in the future, it would not be for at least four to five years, Tressel said.
This final week of practice will also help the coaching staff determine which freshmen might redshirt or not this season. Tressel said most players are 50-50 right now on whether they will see playing time or not, but a number of players are closer to seeing action as opposed to not playing. Those players he mentioned were Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Lamaar Thomas, Michael Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts, Etienne Sabino and Keith Wells.
Pryor has worked his way into a tie with redshirt freshman Joe Bauserman as the team’s primary backup to Todd Boeckman, Tressel said.
Freshman defensive lineman Nathan Williams is closer to the 50 percent chance he will play than he is to not playing, Tressel said, as is linebacker Andrew Sweat. Defensive back Zach Domicone will probably not play, and the same goes for fullback Jermil Martin. Defensive back Travis Howard also will not play as he nurses an undisclosed injury.
Martin’s path to the field is blocked by what Tressel views as plenty of depth at fullback. Senior Brandon Smith is the starter with classmate Ryan Lukens behind him. The “emergency” guy at the position is senior Curtis Terry, who has moved from linebacker to fullback to defensive end during the past calendar year.
Tressel likened Terry’s situation to that of a utility infielder in baseball. In addition to his role on special teams and his job as the emergency fullback, Terry is the team’s second-string defensive end when OSU is not in its base defense, Tressel said.
There are still plenty of pieces left to be sorted as the Buckeyes put together what could potentially be another national championship-caliber season. How well they fit together will start to become apparent shortly after noon this Saturday.