The Buckeyes headed into their last week of 6 a.m. practices gaining depth as a team but not making much progress towards settling open roster spots.
As the players participated in conditioning drills that began at 6 a.m., the focus on Monday was on teamwork and getting stronger – not on competing for a spot on the depth chart.
"At this point every slot is all-open," senior defensive back Antonio Smith said. "There's no first team or second team, everybody's out here competing and trying to win their spot."
The team was short two familiar faces and had added one notable player. Junior tailback Antonio Pittman and senior defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock were present but did not take part in drills, while kicker Jonathan Skeete – who had been removed from the team last spring after being arrested by police on a warrant for marijuana trafficking – was on the field.
When asked about Pittman's status, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel declined to comment on specifics.
"He's just got some muscle ache – that thirteen hundred yard ache," Tressel said.
With the running backs divided into two groups, Maurice Wells and Erik Haw – Pittman's two backups last season – did not run against each other. When they participated in the 25-yard sprints, however, each was the fastest in his group.
Skeete has been reinstated by the university, and now that he's enrolled at OSU he is free to work out with the team as a walk-on.
"He's trying out," Tressel said. "He's kind of like five or six other guys that we've allowed to walk on and try out in spring.
"We allow a lot of extra people to do that because we have roster size limits in the fall and sometimes it's better for us to say 'we'd better get a look at a guy and see if he can make our 105 (-man roster)' than not and all of a sudden a guy doesn't get an opportunity to be on the 105 and he really hasn't had a chance."
One brand-new face took part in drills. Newly recruited linebacker Ross Homan from Coldwater, Ohio, is already taking classes at OSU and has been working out with the team since it returned from the Fiesta Bowl in early January.
He has been working out with departed OSU linebackers A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel and will soon be joined by three other members of his recruiting class. Kurt Coleman, Larry Grant and Chris Wells will join him March 26 or 27 as the trio enrolls for spring practice.
"Ross gets to do everything everyone else does," Tressel said. "He runs around well and he's excited to be here. Someone told me all those linebackers were walking around like a little group at the Arnold (Schwarzenegger Fitness Classic)."
After taking laps around the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the players broke off into groups based on position and rotated around the field to take part in different drills. Players also did sit-ups, push-ups, squat-thrusts and ran 40-yard dashes before dispersing into their groups.
"They're tough workouts," Tressel said. "A lot of change of direction earlier in the winter, a lot of work on power, strength, straight-line linear kind of things. Now when we get into this it's a lot of stop/go, change directions. (It's) maybe a little closer to the game of football – obviously not the game of football – but we want to make that one of the components of the training."
Each place on the field had a different drill. One had players running against rubber bands, while another had players running 25-yard dashes once strength and conditioning coach Bernardo Amerson moved a white flag – simulating the ball being snapped.
If players took off early, they were penalized five yards for a "false start."
"I was stepping up into the pocket," senior quarterback Justin Zwick said to Amerson after being whistled for moving early, after which Amerson shook his head and laughed.
The players will have four more early-morning practices, then have two weeks without mandatory workouts before spring practice begins. The practices are scheduled at early hours to "avoid class conflicts," Tressel said.