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Smith at helm of high-powered Buckeyes

WP: Quarterback has reached new level of trust with Tressel
SMITH
Troy Smith compiled 2,893 yards of total offense for Ohio State last season.Kiichiro Sato / AP file
/ Source: a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/front.htm" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

Troy Smith chats in his sharp suit and bright earrings, looking every bit the part of a Heisman Trophy hopeful. A crowd gathers around and listens to him delve into his newfound love for the film room, how he's trying to become a better passer and the inevitable comparisons to Vince Young.

But as he speaks, Smith leans back in his chair and exposes not only the yellow Lance Armstrong bracelets hanging on his wrists, but possibly the source of some added motivation.

"He's my quarterback coach and one of the few people that believed I could play the quarterback position," Smith said about Joe Daniels, the Ohio State assistant who is undergoing treatment for cancer. "He's battling through it. He's giving me the added strength to keep moving on, to keep going on because of what he's going through."

The Buckeyes start as the No. 1 team in the country entering a season in which the consensus is that there isn't one, an exciting fact for both pundits and fans. Smith, whose unpredictable style of play makes him particularly dangerous, personifies that excitement.

Within one year, Smith went from suspended to superstar, emerging as both a running and passing threat despite splitting time with Justin Zwick early last season.

Ohio State's offense returns with the tools to put on a show this season, and Smith will be directing the cast with a level of trust from Coach Jim Tressel he has never enjoyed before.

Ohio State's young defense lost linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, but the Buckeyes' explosive offense is regarded enough to warrant the preseason No. 1 spot.

Smith is the biggest factor in that equation.

The quarterback racked up 2,893 yards of total offense. As a passer, Smith threw for 2,282 yards with an impressive 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

But the focus this summer was to improve his efficiency as a passer. Again, Smith turned to Daniels for help.

"He's given me another reason to show up at his house and break down film with him and things like that," Smith said. "Without him last year, I probably wouldn't be in the situation I was in."

This season, Smith says he plans on using his feet as more of a last resort.

"Early on [in my career], I thought if the first or second read is not there, run the ball," Smith said. "After taking those hits, I'm no longer running the ball by my will or my want. I run it when I have to run it."

With the increased focus on watching film, Smith said the game has slowed down, bad news for opposing defenses that will also have to deal with a supporting cast that features Ted Ginn Jr., who coaches hope can show the explosiveness at wide receiver that he has displayed as a kick returner. Running back Antonio Pittman, who helped take pressure off Smith by rushing for 1,331 yards last season, also is back.

Meanwhile, Smith has been bolstered by an improved relationship with Tressel, who suspended him for the 2004 Alamo Bowl and last season's opener for taking $500 from a booster.

"As a quarterback, you have to develop a relationship with your head coach," Smith said. "He believes in you, and you believe in him."

That relationship will be tested early on as the Buckeyes lean on the offense to allow the young defense to come together.

The unit, which ranked fifth nationally in yards allowed per game last season, brings back only tackles Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson. While there is ample talent at the linebacker spots, the Buckeyes look vulnerable in the secondary, which could be especially troublesome in a conference in which nine of 11 teams have quarterbacks who started last season.

"We cannot put our defense in bad spots," Tressel said. "Then we have to do those other things, score points and create pressure on their offense by limiting possessions."

Nevertheless, Tressel said he is confident in the defense's ability to adjust quickly.

"We think they're very capable," he said.