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Aug. 29, 2006

COACH TRESSEL: Everybody knows I’m not one of the experts. Have the experts on Wednesday instead. All right. Well, it’s exciting for us to get into a game week because it seems like we’ve been talking for days and days and days about how we’re progressing and so forth and you really don’t know the answer to that until you get to go out and play against someone else. And the someone else we’re playing against is very, very good in Northern Illinois. Most of you have done, I’m sure, plenty of reading about them and know the excellence that Coach Novak has brought there. In my head-coaching career over the last 20 plus years, there have been a few programs that in my mind have done really extraordinary things over time. Some people have come and gone and flashed and so forth, but people like Bill Snyder at Kansas State did an extraordinary case, Barry Alvarez up at Wisconsin came in and did an extraordinary job taking over situations maybe that at the moment weren’t wonderful and I think Joe Novak has to be packaged in that same group. He took over a team that lost 20 some games, really struggling for an identity, what he’s done in the last 11 years is extraordinary and he’s got great upbringing. He’s a native of Mentor, Ohio, and he’s worked here in the Ohio area with a lot of the guys that you would recognize from a coaching standpoint and he’s a Miami of Ohio guy, was with Bill Mallory for years and years over there at Indiana and had excellent success for the Hoosiers and he’s done a great job. If you watch them on film, they are fundamentally sound. They’re very physical, tough kids. They bring it every week. It really doesn’t matter who they’re playing against. You can turn on the game with Michigan last year or a couple years ago beating Alabama down in Tuscaloosa or going over to Maryland and beating Maryland who was coming off of a 10-1 year. You can go down their history and since Joe’s been there, they’ve done extraordinary things. And I think it’s been because they teach so well, their fundamentals are so good, they play low, they play hard, they do the things you like to see as a football coach and that’s why four of the last five years they’ve won their division of the Mid-American Conference because they’ve done it over time and they’ve taught it the right way. Special teams are very important to them. Their kicker is one of the finest that we’ll see all season long. They believe in the right things in terms of how you win football games. Defensively, they’re going to dare you to throw it. They load up the box, they come flying up. Their secondary is very much a part of their force unit. They’ll play aggressive coverage and on the offensive side of things they’re very fundamental. They’ll give you bread and butter run, bread and butter run, excellent pass off their good runs, and perhaps have one of the finest running backs in the country, Garrett Wolfe, it doesn’t matter who he’s playing against, he’s 200-yard rush guy. And if you look at their season from a year ago, the games that they were successful were the ball games that he was in, a couple games he missed there. They had some of their struggles. The one game, though, that was particularly interesting to me that he was out totally, they threw for 400 and some yards. So they knew what they had to do and their players just understand the game. So we’re anxious to find out a little about ourselves. We know they’re good. They’re going to come in here with nothing on their mind other than a victory and our guys are going to have a chance to line up against a good football team and get maybe some of these questions that we’ve been asking back and forth over the last six months and find out some answers to those. Our guys have prepared hard. An interesting thing that I think kind of mirror images Northern Illinois with our situation at this particular time is all 15 of their seniors are fifth-year seniors, so they’ve got a mature group of seniors. 17 of our 18 seniors are fifth-year seniors. That tells you that you’re probably going to have excellent leadership on both sides of both the football teams and so it’s going to be a heck of a match-up from that standpoint. Our guys have done everything that’s been asked of them. They’ve continued to do that. They’ve continued to work hard and become a good football team. No one knows if we’re a good football team until we line up and it will be a great challenge with the Huskies.

REPORTER: Talk about the balance of their offensive, they have over 200 rushing and almost 240 passing, which is a goal almost of the Ohio State staff, 250, 200 mark.

COACH TRESSEL: It really is. The thing they do to you, if you load up too much to stop their run, they have an excellent play action game, excellent misdirection passing game, and what’s good about them is I think their quarterback was 70% completion and I think they were ranked 6th in the nation last year in passing efficiency, I think we were fifth. So they are very efficient at what they do. And we always talk about the fact that football’s a game of pressure and who’s putting the pressure on whom and they do a nice job of putting the pressure on you from a run standpoint, and then if you overdo it to stop that, they’re going to burn you from a pass standpoint. And I think balance is why they’re such a good offense.

REPORTER: Talk about Garrett Wolfe and how he’s kind of a small back. You guys played against Darren Sproles in the Fiesta Bowl, kind of with similar features, is there another runningback that kind of reminds you that you’ve played against of Garrett Wolfe?

COACH TRESSEL: You know, he’s shorter than some, so I guess you can say Hart from Michigan, that type of thing. Sproles was in a little bit different system. Wolfe is a zone run team. Sproles was in a split back, a little bit more of the gun stuff and that type of thing, but I don’t know if we’ve played against a guy like Garrett Wolfe, which will make it an even greater challenge.

REPORTER: You went into camp, obviously a lot of jobs up for grabs especially on defense, and there wasn’t a lot of changes from the start of camp to the end of camp in the depth chart, what does that say about either what happened in camp or maybe some of those jobs were not as open as you thought or what do you say about that?

COACH TRESSEL: I think what it says is you really don’t know until you play games, because it’s very difficult to know for sure, and we’re going to play a number of players. I think that’s what you do early in the year for a lot of reasons, one of which I think a lot of guys deserve to play. Typically in the beginning of the year, the games are warmer and our rotation is healthy and so we’re going to play a lot of guys in the game. And I think when you look at our depth chart, maybe at the start of the Big Ten schedule, you’ll really see what our depth chart is. I don’t know that there will be great changes, I’m not saying that, I’m saying I think we’ll know.

REPORTER: Given the expectations going into this season, which were different from others, going in number one, is there any more anxiety on your part to get this season started?

COACH TRESSEL: I think our guys are anxious. I know we are as coaches. I don’t know that it’s because of expectations, because the expectations are always there wherever we’re ranked. I think especially with the leadership group, so many guys have been here for so long and they’re so excited about the opportunity to lead this football team, plus it’s so much fun to play games at Ohio Stadium and you look at our schedule, whether it be the home games or the away games, those are some exciting situations to be in. And certainly would rather do that than lift weights at 6:00 in the morning in the winter or practice in the spring or practice preseason, you’d rather play those games. So I think we’re anxious for all the right reasons.

REPORTER: When you look at your defense, last year you had, of course, not just a lot of experience but you also had a lot of guys who played a lot of time on defensive snaps. Do you think your defense this year will throw more people at them, you’ll be shuffling people in and out more than you did in the past?

COACH TRESSEL: I think we will. First of all, A. J. wouldn’t leave the field, whether you tried to put a guy in for him or not. And there were some guys that — Nate Salley didn’t come off the field much. Ashton Youboty didn’t come off the field much, you can go down the list. I think we’re going to have a chance to roll a little bit more. We’ve always rolled pretty good in the front. I think that’s just the nature of that position. I think you may see a little more substitution when it comes to the back seven, and I think for two reasons, one, to find out for sure who should be ahead of whom and secondly, we think we have a decent number of guys that are capable and we’ll see how they do when they get their opportunities.

REPORTER: The number-one thing, is that old hat around here? I don’t think a team has ever started number one and finished number one, and there hasn’t been one like that in over a decade.

COACH TRESSEL: I’ve never mentioned that. Gene Smith mentioned to the team in our team opening meeting, he talked about distinguishing yourself and how do you do that at a place like Ohio State, there have been so many great teams and so forth. He threw out the challenge to us, you know, there is a way to distinguish yourself. That was day one of practice. We haven’t talked about it since because we’ve been pretty busy and I’m sure we won’t talk about it after, but it was mentioned once.

REPORTER: Jim, with some of your young guys in the secondary, with their play action game, is that a little bit more of a concern because of some of the inexperience on defense?

COACH TRESSEL: Oh, I think so. If you haven’t experienced a hard run action and all of a sudden the ball is coming up out of there, someone’s running by you, if you haven’t experienced that feeling of, “oh, my gosh,” before, then you’re going to have to see it. So we said long ago that this is going to be a great opener, because they give you all the different pressures that you could possibly have and they are a fighting, tough, nasty bunch. And that’s the way you want the game played and I think our young guys back in the back need to see and feel that.

REPORTER: Who simulates that for you guys in practice in terms of the roles for the quarterbacks? You’ve got five of them, how do you spread out that work and who’s with your first team and working with the offense and who’s working over on the scout team?

COACH TRESSEL: Well, what we — we’ve really only had one practice from a game week standpoint which was yesterday, and the entire practice, Antonio Henton took the scout team snaps and Troy took all the first team snaps. Justin and Todd and Robbie got minimal amount of snaps. We didn’t have — I can’t remember the number of snaps, we may have had 30 some team snaps yesterday. Today what we’ll do is Antonio will probably take 30 some of the scout snaps and Robbie and Todd will take about 15 of them as we work on some specific things that Northern Illinois does. Over on the offensive side, it’ll be similar, Troy will get the bulk of the first snaps and then Justin, and we’ll just see how many snaps are available after that.

REPORTER: There’s been a lot of talk on Troy’s film study, I’m not saying he’s going to be like Peyton Manning up there, I’m saying how much freedom does he have to audibilize the play up there?

COACH TRESSEL: Anytime it works, he’ll do it. He’s got total freedom. That’s why we always used to say with Craig, between every series he’d say, get the play in sooner so I can change it, type thing, and I need more time. We do a significant amount of checking from run to run, pass to pass, pass to run, some formation al type thing, you line up in a formation and the QB puts us in the best situation. We’ll have a significant amount of that.

REPORTER: You had a really long run here of really pretty good kicking, place kicking. I’m just wondering going into a season what you think about your place kickers this year as opposed to what you had in the past where you pretty much knew what you had coming in.

COACH TRESSEL: Really the last four years, we’ve had a known entity. Maybe Josh wasn’t quite as well known going into this past season as some might think, but we’d seen him in practice for five years, so we knew he was good, and of course Nuge in sophomore, junior, senior year, he knew what he was doing. This will be a little like 2001. We have new guys, have a little bit of a competition going on. Aaron Pettrey will get the first opportunity, but we’ve told them we’d like both of them to have opportunities in this football game, which puts a little pressure on the offense to get close enough for field goals and extra points and those kinds of things, and puts pressure on them to make sure we have more than one kickoff. But we want both those guys to go out there in front of everybody and just see how they do.

REPORTER: Is Pettrey right now going to do both? Is he both right now, kickoff and field goals?

COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, but so does Ryan, Ryan does them both.

REPORTER: Will you rotate kicks in the game?

COACH TRESSEL: Not sure. Have to just see how it unfolds. But our goal is, there might be some position where we say, okay, D line, every other series, here’s the breakdown at least through the first four series, but it’s not that frequent with the kicking, so you just kind of have to wait and see how they come and what the situation is and so we’re going in with the intentions of both of them having an opportunity.

REPORTER: In 2001, both those guys got off little bit to a shaky start.

COACH TRESSEL: A lot.

REPORTER: Do you sense from these guys, they’re a little more older, I mean, obviously they’re older, but more mature?

COACH TRESSEL: Well, I don’t know that you know until you get out there and the other jerseys are rushing you and the crowd is full. And I have a lot of confidence in these guys. I think they’ve done a good job. If you look back at our spring kick scrimmage, if you look at spring game, if you look at our fall kick scrimmage, I thought they statistically have done a nice job. And our people put pressure on them in practice, but not quite like game time. And the thing that I mentioned at the outset, Northern Illinois does an excellent job with their belief in the special teams. They put pressure on you, rushing your punter, rushing your kicker with their returns. Their kicker puts pressure on you. They do a lot of different things, so I think it will be good for those guys and I don’t know if they’re more mature or not, we’ll find out.

REPORTER: Both those guys have said obviously it wasn’t their decision, but they kind of thought it might provide confidence if one guy knew he was the guy. Do you think that is a factor in deciding this at all, if you just anoint somebody that can help that kicker have that confidence?

COACH TRESSEL: That would give one guy some confidence. I have a concern about both guys, you know, so — and still, if that one guy is anointed and he misses three times in a row and all the rest, kicks four kickoffs out of bounds, he’s going to be unanointed, so we’ll just keep working.

REPORTER: How close was this? It seemed like they were neck in neck. Did it just come down to one day?

COACH TRESSEL: I’m not sure there’s as much separation when you say it just came down to, I’m not sure there’s as much separation as one might think. Kind of like in the Northern Illinois quarterback situation, that thing could have gone either way as you listen and it just so happens that Horvath gets the first shots out of the gate and it’s a long season. And I would say the same thing for the kicker. Aaron gets the first shot out of the gate, but it’s a long season, consistency over time, passing the test of time is what being good is all about. So Aaron has the first shots out of the gate and I hope he does well and I hope Ryan gets opportunities and we’ll keep evaluating as we go.

REPORTER: Does this change your play calling, though, if you got to a certain spot on the field you would always think Josh or Nuge will make it, but now you might not — you might have to be a little more aggressive to get closer or something?

COACH TRESSEL: I hope we didn’t think that way, because if we were thinking that way, I think that would go on to the players. I want the guys thinking about touchdowns, not that we weren’t ecstatic about the field goals those guys kicked. But I think you have to be smart about situations you put kids in, and so you might not be as aggressive with a first-year kicker as a fourth-year kicker, that type of thing, but we’ll just let it play out.

REPORTER: You brought up a good point there, though —

COACH TRESSEL: I think he had one, Marla jumped him, so —

REPORTER: Last year you had three players selected, three defensive players in the first 18 draft and five the first three rounds. Talent-wise, the players you have less, how do you assess, especially the players coming in, the new players coming in, do you feel you have a talent level of players on defense that can compare with, obviously not experience, but talent-wise?

COACH TRESSEL: I think the assessment is two or threefold. One, do they have similar athletic abilities, and I think the answer to that is yes. Then I think the next assessment is all about playing football, and playing football over time. And the thing about A.J. Hawk, the thing about Nate Salley, the thing about Donte Whitner is they were always there. I remember the time when Donte Whitner had a knee surgery and was back in eight days. He was just always there for you. I think the original assessment of height, weight, speed, I think we’re fine, now we’ll find out football-wise and that’s what the season’s for.

REPORTER: I think the question everybody’s asking right now, at least fans are, is what are you guys going to be about offensively? Obviously you’re not going to give away secrets, but how do you see this offense? Is this just a huge big play offense waiting to happen or do you want to go more of a grind it out game, do you seem to have that capability also? What’s in your brain right now about what you’re capable of offensively?

COACH TRESSEL: We would like to be able to apply pressure in all those ways. We would like people to be nervous about us running by them. We would like people to be nervous about us pounding them. We would like people to be nervous that we might run the option at them, we might run misdirection, that we have a good control passing game. There’s not much we don’t want to be, and I think there’s two reasons that we have that philosophy. One is we think it helps our defense over the course of springs and preseasons, the more different things we can do, it helps them prepare. And two, we think it applies a lot of pressure defensively from a preparation standpoint, and then obviously playing us in the game, once we get a handle on how they’ve decided to look at us, and so not unlike our defense, I don’t know that we know for sure who we are right now. Everyone talks about all those defensive guys we lost, but Santonio Holmes and Nick Mangold and Robbie Sims and Brandon Schnittker and all that, they were part of our offense, so we have a lot to prove over there as well.

REPORTER: Jim, as it relates to the quarterbacks, how does your job change in terms of managing Troy? In other words, do you give him a little more freedom this year, a little more leeway, benefit of the doubt like you did with Craig? You know what I’m saying? It seems like when he was a younger guy, maybe you kept the leash a little tighter on him when he was out there.

COACH TRESSEL: I think what we do have from an offensive standpoint is how guys demonstrate what they’re capable of doing, you just keep adding that to their repertoire. That’s what’s fun about watching a quarterback develop. You do the same with linebackers and secondary. The more they’ve shown what they can do and they can master, then the more is in their whole package. And we’d like to think that our package can grow, but only at the pace that the rest of the people can do it. You can’t lose sight of the fact that all 11 people have to do it, and if you do it over here and not over there —

REPORTER: Jim, just talk about Ted Ginn right now, if he’s a very different player than he was last year. It seemed like we had a lot of questions first couple games of last season about slow starts for him, just where is he as a receiver right now?

COACH TRESSEL: I think he progresses every day and I think he’s a totally different receiver than he was as last year began. Again, because he’s had more experiences. He’s seen the things that people do. He understands what the people were doing to focus on Santonio Holmes and that’s why they were playing such and such and he’s very aware that some of that focus could be on him and he may be seeing some different things than he’s seen in the past and I think he understands the game. But there’s only one way to understand the game, that’s play it, and I think he’s coming along.

REPORTER: Jim, what are your thoughts on handling these guys once the national spotlight is on them, will you ever consider if one of them is nearing a milestone in the game, 400 yards rushing, 30 touchdowns, whatever, will you ever consider that in your thought process, in terms of leading them in the game in terms of a particular milestone, knowing what could be in it for them at the end of the season in terms of national recognition?

COACH TRESSEL: I think you would only do that if that was okay from a team standpoint. If you’re playing an even game and you start calling plays and calling defenses based on an individual’s statistics, I think you’re not fair to the team. I think if you’re in a situation where the impact on the team is not one way or the other, then I think you would certainly do that because records are made to be broken and guys are deserving of recognition. We like to put one more feather in Steve Snapp’s cap of all the great ones he’s promoted at Ohio State.

REPORTER: Are you uneasy of that, though, Jim, the promotion of a few players, or is that just part of the modern game?

COACH TRESSEL: It’s part of the modern game, there’s no question about it. I think it’s part of the tremendous interest that has grown in the sport. It’s right now our ticket interest and that type of thing is unbelievable. The amount of interest in people watching on television and so forth is incredible, some of which is because they intimately get to know someone chasing records or someone being considered, so that’s not a bad thing. As long as it’s left within those confines. It really has nothing to do with the team and its goals, but we’d like to believe that the better the team does and moves towards their goals, then most certainly individuals’ goals perhaps could be attained as well and if the team doesn’t do well, there won’t be a whole bunch of discussion of those individual awards and our guys are aware of that.

REPORTER: Coach, how do you handle from a psychological standpoint even this defense versus last year’s defense? Keep hearing talent and potential and makings of a good defense, but there’s obviously not the confidence of the staff because they’ve not done it in a game yet. How do you handle them versus the 2005 year?

COACH TRESSEL: I think the staff has a lot of confidence in this defense, I really do. I think the staff also knows we have to prove it, and not unlike anytime where you graduate a bunch of guys, in ’03, we had all those senior defensive players, in ’04, we got to the point we were pretty good by the end, and all of a sudden in ’05, everyone says, oh, gosh, Ohio State’s got a great defense. Well, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t mean anyone didn’t have confidence in that. I know our defensive coaches and I know I personally have a lot of confidence in this defense. I also know this, we have some great challenges, Garrett Wolfe and these guys coming in, look down the road at the rest of the people we play, they better grow.

REPORTER: You brought up 2004. What makes this defense different than the 2004 unit that really struggled tremendously at times?

COACH TRESSE: I think we have a little bit more experience up front returning than we had in 2004, maybe a little bit less in the back end, but a little bit more returning up front and I don’t know what the difference — we’ve already played 2004. Haven’t played ’06 yet. I guess I could answer that after we do that.

REPORTER: Jim, you spent some time talking about Garrett Wolfe, and I’m not sure if you mentioned the big tackle they have, Doug Free, could you just talk about him and what he brings to the table?

COACH TRESSEL: I mentioned they have a huge offensive line and he happens to be 6-7, 312, which is pretty big. Sometimes you lose sight of those guys behind mammoth folks like that and I think three of their guys are up front and two of them graduated. They kind of just reload their system. Their system, from the day a kid walks in there as offensive line, he’s learning what they do. So whoever they replace, those guys that graduated, they’re going to understand what they need to do. They’re going to need to grow. And some of those guys returning like Free and that bunch, they’re good. They’re already good. And how much better are they going to get? That’s why Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson and all those guys know they have a heck of a challenge. I think this is Marla’s last question because I have some guys in the back that are anxious and Steve’s getting nervous back there.

REPORTER: Then I’ll change my question.

COACH TRESSEL: You’ll change your question? You don’t have to. There are some thumbs up over there. They want a different question.

REPORTER: Well, what I have is a two-parter then.

COACH TRESSEL: You guys have instructed her.

REPORTER: Do you expect Chris Wells to play in this game, number one?

COACH TRESSEL: Oh, certainly. Chris Wells, I think, has had an excellent spring. I thought he had a very, very good camp. He’s really hungry to learn what we’re doing and I see him constantly asking Doc Tressel and asking Troy Smith and Antonio Pittman to clarify things and if he looks around and if it’s not one of the normal guys he asks, he might ask me or he might ask Joe Daniels. You know, he wants to know exactly what the score is. And I thought after a weekend off especially, just watching him yesterday, he looked even quicker than I’ve seen him in the spring and fall and I think he’s looked awfully quick.

REPORTER: The other part of that is there’s going to be four guys in division one from Akron, runningbacks and probably playing considerably this year. Will you look more in that area or —

COACH TRESSEL: Will we look more in Akron for runningbacks?

REPORTER: Yes.

COACH TRESSEL: If they’re good ones. You’re talking about Antonio Pittman who we think is a special one, and Chris Wells and Terrell Sutton, Delone Carter —

REPORTER: Delone Carter from Syracuse.

COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, Delone is a good one, makes me yearn for the days we didn’t have scholarships, but we don’t have that.