A prime time kick-off on the Big Ten Network against the Hoosiers awaits ahead for the Buckeyes this week, but the only thing looming around Buckeye Nation is the stories of two consecutive shutouts and the Big Ten's suspension of Kurt Coleman for Saturday's contest. In his weekly press luncheon, Jim Tressel fielded questions and addressed both of these topics, as well as some other issues surrounding the Buckeyes as they prepare for Indiana.
To start off, Tressel discussed the defense, which many are calling the best since the 2002 National Championship team. Lead by the defensive line's stellar play, the defense has not given up a score since Stafon Johnson trotted into the end zone to crush the Buckeyes' hopes of bashing their big game demons. Tressel discussed the defenses current play, talking specifically about how they graded out this week and if they can improve further this season:
Obviously our defense sets the tone. Even if the opposing team starts a couple first downs and so forth, they don't panic, they just keep playing, come up to the play. Brian Rolle coming up with the play in the first drive obviously was huge. From a winning performance standpoint, we had maybe five on the defensive side and three or so on the offensive side, so it wasn't a flawless performance by any means.
It's kind of scary that this defense can get better. They have been lights out since stepping on the field against USC (maybe besides one drive) and the fact that only five players graded out a winning performance means that the coaching staff feels they can get even better. If the defense can and does indeed improve, it won't matter what the offense will do the rest of the season. This defense is the best I have seen so far in college football this year and can win games on their own if need be.
Once the hot topic of the two consecutive shutouts settled down, the questions moved on to the Big Ten's decision to suspend Kurt Coleman. Late in Saturday's game, Coleman dove in on a pile head-first and was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul penalty, but the Big Ten, who is trying to crack down on dangerous plays, felt that Coleman's actions warranted a one-game suspension. Characteristically, the Senator didn't want to go to deep into the conference's decision and when asked about losing Coleman this week, he said:
Well, you can never look at losing a player as something that stops you in your tracks because guys sprain ankles, they twist knees, they pull hamstrings, they hurt elbows. You better have been getting ready the next guy at any position. So do you like losing guys? No. I think we've been pretty fortunate.
Tressel was then asked how Coleman took the news of his suspension, saying:
We talked about that a little bit yesterday and kind of that was yesterday's news and so he took it like a man and we'll go forward.
As usual Tressel didn't say too much, but as reporters tried to pry even further into the week's big news, The Vest silence any more talk of the topic:
Well, our directive was to make sure that it's yesterday's news and not comment further.
It didn't surprise anyone in attendance that Tressel avoided the issue at all costs. Yesterday, Tressel and athletic director Gene Smith gave a joint statement in response to Coleman's suspension, but many weren't sure if more of Tressel's or more of Smith's words made up that statement. Today, with Tress's unwillingness to discuss the issue, I think it is safe to say his thoughts and beliefs were strongly entrenched in yesterday's release by the university and that statement speaks for itself in saying that the OSU football people think the Big Ten went a little overboard in this decision.
As Corey mentioned yesterday, there is certainly a depth chart shake up because of Coleman's suspension for game against Indiana. Tressel did decide to divulge who would replace Coleman this week and talked about the depth at the position for the game against the Hoosiers:
We've been playing three safeties a lot, whether we're in base or nickel. Anderson, Kurt, and Jermale have been playing. In base, you have Jermale and Anderson. Your next safety, and I guess I'm speaking a little bit out of ignorance, because I haven't sat and had that discussion with Jim Heacock and Luke and them, would be Orhian Johnson as the guy that's had the most reps. Getting Zach Domicone back is certainly helpful there from a depth standpoint.
As a one time Anderson Russell supporter, I can now say I don't feel comfortable with him on the field at any time, and, yes, that even includes when the Bucks take on Indiana. Russell will have to step up his game big-time if he wants to hold off Orhian Johnson, who impressed both fans and coaches during his fine play in spring practice. Coleman being out could be a blessing in disguise in the sense that it allows Johnson to see significant playing time this week, possibly enabling him to show enough to jump Russell in further secondary rotation. Zach Domicone returning from injury will help as well, as he provides depth at the position and is a very productive player on special teams. Some younger players will have an opportunity to impress this week with Coleman out and it will be interesting to see how those players perform in a game situation.
Switching over to the offensive side of the ball, there were 30 points put up last week, but it is clear the offense has a long way to go if the Bucks want to claim their fifth straight conference title. Tressel talked about the progression of the offense up to this point, specifically the play of the offense line, and how they hope to take steps to improve throughout the season:
Are there some things we need to keep getting better at? For sure. And we need to keep growing into who we think our guys can be, but I think our guys felt pretty good about the fact that we didn't have very many mental errors. I heard Jim Bollman say that he thought Mike Brewster called his best game since he's been here, from a decision of where to go. They did a lot of different things back there. Mike did a good job of knowing where the safeties were spinning down and knowing where to turn his line back and so forth. I think we got a step forward in confidence, but it has to be followed by another one, obviously.
I think any progression or improvement you have seen so far in the offense has to do with the offensive line and I think Mike Brewster's improved play may be at the center of that. "Block O", made up of Brewster, Mike Adams, and JB Shugarts, have given a boost to the line since playing together in the Toledo game, and the consistent play of Justin Boren, coupled with Bryant Browning's improvement at right guard has given the line an identity that has been missing for the last two years. Andy Miller may be out of his regular left tackle position from here on out, but his ability to play either side, as well as guard, gives the line great flexibility and depth. The running game saw their huge boost against Illinois because of the play of the line, and hopefully this translates into better play out of the quarterback position as well.
Speaking of the quarterback, Terrelle Pryor only threw 13 passes this past week, but interestingly took the majority of his snaps from the shot gun, rather then from under center. When asked if this was done for a reason, Tressel responded:
I think if you're a defense, you're a little more concerned about the quarterback as a runner when he's in the shotgun as opposed to having to go backwards to run forwards. But outside of that, the down side to the shotgun quite obviously is that when I'm under center I can have my eyes on those safeties all the time and I know how they're spinning their coverage and I can get my post-snap reads and all that. When you're in the shotgun you have to look down for the ball and you lose a little bit of sight and you lose a little bit of speed in your decision making.
So that's why I don't know that you ever see everyone all the time necessarily in the shotgun and you might see some people, but that's just what they do and so forth, but there are some advantages to both, but I think as a defensive coach you would be more concerned about the use of the quarterback as a runner when he's back already and didn't run forward.
It seems as if the coaches have identified what Pryor has struggled with and feel that those things can be more easily corrected by him having more time to make decisions, thus putting him primarily in the shot gun on most plays. As you saw last week, the running game was able to be effective with zone-read plays and other looks, and although it was hard to judge with the weather last week, Pryor's decision making seemed to be improved. He only threw 13 passes, but it was his first game this season without an interception. Yes, he did continue to throw across his body to try and hit receivers that probably shouldn't be thrown to, but at least he took off at the right times when pressured and didn't try to force to much when the play broke down. Pryor has further to go in terms of his development than many fans wanted to see at this point in his career, but if taking snaps out of the shot gun helps speed up his development, then I am all for it.
On a lighter note, Tressel was asked to address his feelings on the social network, including Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace. While there are accounts and all of the sites under the name Jim Tressel, the coach denied that he uses any of the social networks and discussed his players use of the sites as well:
We do talk about the fact that anything you put out there is there for good and whether you're trying to get a job at a corporation some day or the NFL as they look at your background and so forth, so if you put it out there, you're stuck with it. But, no, we don't counsel them as to what to say or whatnot to say or, hey, Terrelle, why don't you go Twitter this and they'll think we're throwing this pass or something, you know. So just good, common sense and that you represent more than yourself, you represent your family and your school and your teammates and your team and college football and all the rest, but outside of that, we don't.
He was then asked further on if there is someone checking the players' accounts on all of these networks or if there have been any reports to him about specific accounts, as it could be a risk to the program, and said:
Haven't had that at this point. Now, we do check all those pictures that are -- what's that on, myspace, facebook? We have a person check that out because you never know who's putting you on where, it might not even be you and that's the hard thing we tell our guys, hey, if you're anywhere near where someone can have a camera phone and you're not doing something appropriate, you might be on record. And so we do have someone peruse that, but I don't think we have anyone peruse Twitter. If we do, I didn't know it. And if someone's representing me on facebook or Twitter, I hope they're doing a good job because it's not me. I don't even know how to spell it.
I found great entertainment in this segment of the press conference. In an almost Paterno-like way, Tressel showed his "old schoolness" in his knowledge of the social networking world, but he did show he acknowledges the importance of these sites in terms of the welfare of his players. There obviously have been some things said by certain players on some of these sites (we're looking at you #82) that have raised the eyebrows of some, but it is good to see that the integrity of both the players and the program is at least slightly protected by someone checking their accounts on facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. On another note, imagine what Tressel would tweet about if he did indeed have a twitter account? Now that would be one person NOT on my "must-follow" list, as nothing noteworthy or interesting could possibly come out of his computer.
Finally, the last topic to address on the day was the rumor of the possible transfer of wide receiver and kick returner Laamar Thomas. Thomas wrote on his facebook that "Tomorrow could be the last day :(", but quickly deleted it, possibly showing that people were taking what he said the wrong way. Either way there have been rumors Thomas is unhappy with his role, and Tressel discussed that role today:
He's our kickoff returner, he's not a punt returner and he's one of the best in the country, I think, and I'm hoping he can rip one out of there. Right now he's battling in that fourth or fifth area from a receiver standpoint, but we're working hard. I've never seen anything other than positive work ethic and positive attitude. You may have seen different, but he goes to work and we have good expectations for Lamaar.
Like any other player, Thomas will have to earn his minutes in the receiving corps, and I think Darrell Hazell is very fair when it comes to putting the best players on the field. Duron Carter seeing more minutes as a true freshman obviously must frustrate Thomas, but history has shown that Thomas will see plenty of the field in the coming years as long as he keeps working hard and paying his dues. I do think Thomas is an extraordinary talent with lightning speed that can be used more than he has, but his conversion from a high school running back to a college receiver obviously has not been completed yet, otherwise I think you would see his skills utilized more. It will be interesting to see if there is any truth to the rumors floating around the last few weeks, but for now, here's to Flash remaining a Buckeye.