Confidence without experience is better known as arrogance. It takes actual experience — and success – for real confidence to set in. Over the course of the first half of this season the Buckeyes have gained experience, and the confidence — both individually and as a collective program — has increased. The results on the field have not been mere coincidences and the manifestations can be seen in many different places.
Like A Steele Trap
One of those places is with redshirt sophomore linebacker Steele Chambers. Everybody by now knows Chambers’ story as the former running back who moved to linebacker this summer and has grown to be one of the Buckeyes’ best defenders already.
His experience has not only built his own confidence, but his coaches now have a much better understanding what he can do on defense, which means he’s probably going to be doing even more over the second half of the season.
“I was really impressed Saturday because here’s what Steele does: he sees and he goes,” defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said last week. “And you say, ‘Well, that seems really simple.’ It’s not. It’s not. Sometimes guys go and then they see. Sometimes they see and then they go. He sees and he goes. He’s not always right where he’s going yet, right? Because he needs that experience. But when he sees it, he goes.
“And guys like that are fun to coach. And we’ve had a bunch of them here. And some people listed some comparisons and he’s going to play more. We go back to the whole experience thing and the competition thing and how things will go at practice, he’s got to have a great week of practice. But if he sees it and he goes and he keeps doing that, he’s gonna play a lot of ball for the Buckeyes.”
The Man Without Fear
There were few Buckeyes with less experience entering the season than true freshman cornerback Denzel Burke. Being a corner, Burke possessed the kind of natural confidence that is necessary at the position, but until they saw him in practice every day against receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, nobody really knew he would be this good, this quickly.
Coombs has already said this year that he never expected to start a true freshman cornerback at Ohio State, but from the time Burke enrolled in the winter, he has taken every lesson, meeting, and practice in stride and made the most of it.
Now with six starts under his belt, he is no longer untested. Things are going to be getting much tougher the rest of the way out, however, and Burke’s ability to bounce back from a bad play is going to be necessary.
Burke will need to rely on the confidence that he has built over the past 10 months as a Buckeye, as well as the selective obliviousness that is needed to play the position.
“I think many of the great ones out there, first of all, they have to have no conscience, and they have to have no fear. Otherwise, they can’t play fearlessly. They can’t be great,” Coombs said of Burke’s play at cornerback so far. “And so many of the great ones out there have that.
“But he is a sponge and he retains what you tell him. He made a critical error on Saturday and hopefully that’s one that he’ll learn from and never make again. But he still has not seen everything. And that’s part of this process, is the opportunity to see everything. The more you play, the more you get that experience.”
Experience Breeds Confidence
Every team is different for a head coach and each of them comes with their own timetables. This year’s team has been a test for Buckeye head coach Ryan Day, but with how inexperienced they were, he at least knew to expect some growing pains.
This year’s group is relying on some very talented underclassmen at every level, but even a handful of the fourth-year players are playing significant minutes for the first time in their careers. It takes time for veterans to build confidence, just like it does for the young players.
But now the effect of that confidence is being seen on the scoreboard. Eventually, however, those scores will get tighter and the confidence will need to be exhibited by how well the team handles in-game adversity.
Day likes where things are headed and he can see the experience and confidence growing every day, but there’s still a long way to go between now and January.
“We still have got a lot of football left,” Day said last week. “We haven’t done anything yet. But I think that there is some confidence being built. You can see that some guys are starting to settle into some roles, and that’s a good thing. We’re not doing everything for the first time and I think when we walk on the field, we’re expecting a high level of execution in all three phases. And because of that, there’s just a confidence about the team right now that’s good.
“But the competition is gonna increase, we’re gonna have to go on the road here, a night game at Indiana here pretty soon. The games are just going to get bigger and bigger. We still have young team, that hasn’t changed, but having six games under our belt, I do think we’re in a better place than we were six games ago.”