|Current Buckeyes are quiet, confident and comfortable|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 18 October 2007 09:46|
In terms of temperament, there's no comparison.
Where the 2006 Buckeyes were a cocky, veteran bunch, the current squad takes its cues from frontmen like soft-spoken, humble and unassuming linebacker James Laurinaitis and quarterback Todd Boeckman.
``The guys who lead this team, it's by hard work and by play on the field,'' starting guard Ben Person said. ``There's not a whole lot of verbose guys on the team. That's kind of how we've been going at it all year.''
He added, ``I don't know if you'd say we've got quite as much swagger to us. It's in a different manner. It's more of a reflection of who the leaders are.''
Last year's leaders were celebrities compared to this year's collection of blue-collar workers.
Quarterback Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy, but still seethed underneath that it had taken him four seasons and several public humiliations before he finally stepped into the spotlight. Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez was a bright and interesting player who enjoyed talking about the deeper side of the game, far beyond Xs and Os.
Ted Ginn Jr. made his name by returning punts and turning short passes into touchdowns with a breakneck burst. And tailback Antonio Pittman had a quiet confidence. He was satisfied to pile up rushing yards more than press clippings.
The defense also had its share of self-assured characters, led by tackles David Patterson and Quinn Pitcock and backs Antonio Smith and Brandon Mitchell.
After Gonzalez, Ginn (both taken in the first round) and Pittman (fourth round) declared early for the NFL draft, and five seniors were also drafted, the coaching staff was concerned about where the leadership would come from in 2007.
These Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) don't fit the mold of a championship team. They start only two seniors on offense and one on defense. Only two others are listed as second-teamers on the two-deep roster for Saturday's game against Michigan State (5-2, 1-2).
``Throughout this (preseason) camp we've got to find out who our true leaders are, not just the verbal ones but the true leaders on Saturdays,'' defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said back in August. ``I don't know if we know that yet.''
He didn't really have to worry.
After the Buckeyes were lambasted 41-14 by Florida in the Bowl Championship Series national title game last January, it was almost a relief to have a softer approach. Maybe that landslide defeat on national television knocked some of the bravado out of the Buckeyes who remained.
``We got away from that disaster we had in Arizona and we've just been trying to get better every day and work hard every day. That's kind of been the leadership roles people have been trying to take,'' Person said. ``It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a fifth-year senior, you're working hard and trying to instill that in the young guys.''
Boeckman is Exhibit A of the new mind-set of the Buckeyes.
He's tall and good-looking, yet visibly shrinks when he steps before a TV camera. It is clear that he is uncomfortable talking about himself - unlike the brash Smith, who recognized early on in his career the value of promoting himself and his team.
Boeckman knows there's a big difference between the teams' leaders from last year to this.
``I don't know if last year we were full of ourselves,'' said Boeckman, who seldom played on last year's 12-1 team. ``We were just so confident of our ability and what we had done and how we had handled ourselves in the past.''
This year's Buckeyes have piled up victories but their heads still fit comfortably inside their helmets.
Boeckman got the giggles on Tuesday when a reporter pointed out he was on pace to match Smith's total of touchdown passes from 2006 and asked him if he was ready to declare his candidacy for the Heisman Trophy yet.
Some of the players remember what it was like to be No. 1 all last season until that final loss. Others are experiencing it for the first time. Everybody seems to be comfortable with it.
``I think people handle (being No. 1) good,'' defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said. ``We have a young team so we don't get too cocky or anything like that in the room.''
So far, that's worked like a charm.