The Longest Offseason in the History of Ohio State Football is almost over. With the 2011 season commencing a mere four days hence, Luke Fickell and game captains John Simon, J.B. Shugarts, and Mike Brewster took to the podium to answer the media's questions earlier today.
What will Luke Fickell wear? Will the games be a way to move past this tumultuous off-season? Won't some seniors get mad over the captainship rotating by game? Does Akron have any tricks up their sleeve? These were just some of the questions answered by Ohio State's new frontman over the course of a half hour.
Before we begin, can you think of the last time Ohio State lost a home opener to a non-conference foe? Neither can I, but according to one of pamphlets passed out at the conference, that came on September 16, 1978, to then #5 Penn State, in what would prove to be to be Woody Hayes' final season. Things appear to be quite grim for the Zips indeed.
The first topic broached with Fickell centered around his decision to rotate the captainship of the team on a week-to-week basis. While he did acknowledge it was something unorthodox, he proffered this defense of the system:
"We've got some different changes and different things. Obviously, a group of seniors, some here, some not here, some in, some out; but for right now, I thought this was what was best for our team. Sometimes, you elect captains, and all of a sudden, those are the guys, just by nature, that stand up in front of the team. We always talk about it's about the whole group of seniors. And I thought, right now, for this year, it does a good job of bringing the whole senior leadership to the forefront.
I liked this answer by Fickell, who seemed at ease into his first game-week presser. He seems to want to breed a culture of accountability with everybody in the locker room. And he's right, if guys are elected captain, then sometimes they are the only ones speaking up during times of turbulence. Fickell wants to avoid this by breeding leadership qualities within everybody on his roster.
He also noted that, somewhere down the line, true captains would be named (perhaps after the banquet?), but for now, he thought this was the best way to introduce the senior leadership to some of the younger guys on the squad.
... Fickell was then asked about the "or" system the Buckeyes will be deploying at quarterback this year, and who in fact, would be getting the first snap of the 2011 campaign.
If we were taking the first stap right now, Joe would probably take the first snap... We know we're going to need them both. The whole idea is, we're going to be able to put them out there in front of 106,000 [people] and see how guys respond. ... But again, we're trying to create competition. We're trying to see how this team gels together, what the team needs, what the offense needs. I think we're just trying to bring life to both of them. ... We sat down with both of them and made sure they knew, we're going to need both of them this year.
The quarterback platoon, which has been deployed with varying success throughout the history of Buckeye football, appears to be an idea well entrenched in the offensive philosophy this year. Obviously, they both bring differing skill sets to the table, so it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff harnesses these talents as the season goes on. Mike Brewster, in a later conference, admitted they were "trying some new things" this year on the offensive side of the ball, so it will be interesting to see what the coaching staff can cook up.
... Jim Tressel's sweatervest was obviously iconic. Apparently, fans are intrigued by what Luke Fickell will be dawning come game day:
(Laughing) Whatever my wife lays out for me.
Fickell seemed to be amused by the (admittedly) "hard-hitting" question. He shot down of wearing anything that would be seen as his calling card, which probably wouldn't jive with his whole "nobody is above the team" philosophy. (Personally, I was kind of hoping he was going to rock a fedora and a specialized OSU Affliction t-shirt, but that was just me). What he does end up wearing will probably be consistent. He did note, however, that defensive coaches wear black on the sidelines, so the defensive players can easily identify them on the sidelines when they're receiving signals. He also mentioned Nike could play a large role in what he wears as well.
... What was it about Bauserman's performance that led to him being placed at the "top of the 'or'"?
It's leadership. It's also what this team, where we were at the time. ... He's done a very good job at camp. I've been impressed. I've been impressed with Braxton too, which is why we included him in the "or". ... The whole idea is to create competition.
So in other words, Ol' Dude Joe Bauserman got the nod because he's the senior. Ultimately, whoever starts doesn't matter, because they're both going to be deployed at differing times throughout the games. When pressed about the substitution pattern he planned to use, Fickell said he had an idea, but wouldn't divulge his secrets.
... On the status of Jaamal Berry and how he saw the running back rotation going down:
Jamaal is questionable, still, to this date. And again, those running backs, to me, we've got some talent. We've got some depth. We're going to have to see. Those guys are going to get their opportunities. How you take advantage of your opportunities, as I'm sure you guys have heard me say a hundred times, how you take advantage of your opportunities will determine how many opportunities you get.
Fickell doesn't seem to be playing favorites by seniority, much as Tressel seemed to do from time to time. Whoever is the best player will play. He seems to be trying to create an idea of competition across the board--refusing to put all of his chips with one back. He seems to want to keep his dogs hungry as possible, so when their opportunities do rise, they realize just how valuable they are and do their best to take advantage of them. I can't say I disagree with his strategy.
.... Fickell continued on his theories of competition when the depth of the offensive line (namely being the second string offensive line is made up of freshmen and walk-ons):
Depth wise, obviously, that's always a concern. When you have some guys with injuries, and some guys that're going to be out, you have worries. ... We do have a depth issue right there. ... That's what Coach Bollman has always done a great job of. He's always got guys where you can go in there and bump them around. Not just to say you're the back-up right tackle, and the right-tackle goes down, the next guy goes in. No, the best guy for the job is going in. We've said that several times on defense. I've had guys asking me all the time, 'Hey, if the middle linebacker goes down, do I go in?' No, the next best guy goes in. We teach it as a scheme and a system.
See what I'm saying? (Fickell also mentioned OL Corey Lindsey won't be available for the Akron game and probably won't be available for the Toledo game either).
... Fickell, when asked what message people, with all the scandal surrounding the team in the off-season, can expect from the football team, went on to give a lot of coach-speak in regards to "our actions will speak louder than our words." He said, ultimately, it will be his team's actions which will end up defining them.
... Fickell also acknowledged his inexperience, saying that, even though he's envisioned how he will go about coaching in front of 106,000, there's really no way to truly prepare for coaching in front of 106,000 people.
... When asked about the curiosity surrounding the freshmen class which will be asked to contribute immediately (on both sides of the ball)
I don't know where it's much unlike other years. But, I think it's a great reflection on them that they were willing to get to where they are, whether it's as a redshirt freshman or a true freshman. Now, does this mean I feel better on Friday night thinking that one of those guys might be starting? I'm not saying that. But we've all been in those situations. I've been in that situation as a player. But, we didn't bring them here to sit on the bench.
I like that quote, "We didn't bring them here to sit on the bench." Granted, it's obvious, but it's not like these guys are incapable of grasping schemes and their roles within the team. Will there be mistakes? Probably, but through that growth could come greatness.
... When asked what "stamp" Fickell hoped to place on the team, he ducked the question by saying it was about the Ohio State stamp, not his personal stamp. Again, TEAM.
... The coaching staff "doesn't lack confidence" in regards to Braxton Miller's abilities. In fact, it was reinforced personally to Braxton this morning.
... Fickell acknowledges that games will help push some of this summer's turbulence out of the mind, but Fickell seemed confident in his abilities to do that this summer during camp.
.... Fickell was asked about his time at Akron and asked to shed light on the team coming into Columbus on Saturday. He sidestepped it, lauded their coaching staff, facilities, and yadda yadda yadda.
... When asked about redshirt freshman Verlon Reed, Fickell was laudatory:
Verlon has done an amazing job. From the way he blocks, the way he practices, the way he carries himself... he has really done an unbelievable job, from the winter on. And it's shown on the field, which is why he's in the position he's in. But he has a ton of ability, and I don't mean that just as catching the football and doing the things that just you guys might notice or the stats might notice, but he's got a ton of ability to do things that go unnoticed to people in the stands.
Verlon is poised to have a breakout year. Did you see how the first thing Fickell mentioned about him was his blocking? These are the things which wide receivers do that people in the stands generally don't mention. Between Verlon, Philly Brown, and the imminent return of DeVier Posey, OSU's wide receiving corps could end up being alright.
... Etienne Sabino will play on Saturday. The coaches have eased him back into practice, but he will be full go Saturday.
... Ryan Shazier, who will be expected to contribute, has been taken under Andrew Sweat's wing, and seems to be taking to it pretty well.
... Luke Fickell claims he "won't allow himself" to think about replacing the like of Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel. I don't believe him.
... When asked if he's consulted anybody on the intricacies of head coaching, Fickell gave the most humorous reply of the day:
I didn't say I didn't know how to do it. In my mind, I know how to do it. But until I actually do it, and prove it, it's just in my mind. I have confidence in doing it. But, I don't talk about it, because I haven't done it.
I love everything about that quote.
... When a troll tried to get Fickell to comment on what he expects from a team with only 30 upper-classmen on scholarship, Fickell parried it by saying the only expectations he has fall on Ohio State's side and how they execute.
... In other shocking news, Fickell thinks having a veteran center like Brewster will be able to help quell some of the troubles that may arise from having equally (game) experienced quarterbacks. He also said that they've told Brewster they don't need him to lead through words, but through actions. Sometimes, they've told him, his actions are enough. (I can't tell you how much I agree with that).
... Fickell said the only offensive goal this week is to win.
... Fickell, as some of his players would do later, brought up the term "fast and sharp" or "sharp and fast." This seems to be a focal point for Ohio State players on the field this year. (Insert an SEC-speed joke here).
... He also mentioned how the pre-game knots in the stomach recede during the game as a player, but as a coach, they never go away.
... Fickell said his lifetime goal when he got into coaching was to one day coach at Ohio State, but through the years, he's turned down some opportunities (namely, the Notre Dame opportunity) due to his family as well.