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Tressel says Ross, Hall are capable tailbacks

COLUMBUS -- Jim Tressel didn't hold a spot in Ohio State's team picture for Maurice Clarett, and he won't hold a spot in the lineup for him either.

Tressel said Wednesday night that he is confident that Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall can fill the tailback position where Clarett set a freshman rushing record a year ago for the national champion Buckeyes.

''They've demonstrated to me that they're very, very good running backs,'' Tressel said during a 40-minute meeting with reporters following Ohio State's team-picture day at Ohio Stadium.

Tressel seldom even uttered Clarett's name during the lengthy interview.

Clarett has been held out of Ohio State's preseason practices -- and it's team picture -- while the NCAA and the university investigate the running back.

The university named a 10-person committee to look into charges by a teaching assistant that Clarett received improper help in passing a course last fall. The NCAA is looking into an April police report in which Clarett said $800 in cash and $5,000 in electronic equipment -- including monitors mounted in the back of the headrests -- was stolen from a car he was driving. The car, a 2001 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, belonged to a local car dealership.

Clarett, who has not spoken publicly since the investigations began, has issued a statement apologizing for exaggerating the value of the stolen articles and causing ''embarrassment'' to the university.

Asked if he was comfortable that Clarett had done nothing wrong, Tressel said, ''Nothing that I know of.''

Tressel also said he was unaware of the break-in of Clarett's car until recently.

''I'm not sure I was aware back in April when a police report was filled out that it was or wasn't accurate,'' the third-year coach said. ''To this day I still haven't seen the police report. … At that point in time, I wasn't aware that there may even be any problems there.''

Ohio State is coming off a 14-0 season capped by a 31-24 double-overtime victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. The Buckeyes open the 2003 season on Aug. 30 at home against Washington.

Tressel said he feels some responsibility for the ''adversities'' being suffered by the program.

''Anytime you look in the mirror you try to figure out your part of anything, you can usually center it back to, 'Could you have spent more time with whomever?''' Tressel said. ''Ultimately we feel as if we are responsible to control every situation. It's hard to do. But that's the way we feel and there's no question about it, as leaders we talk to our guys about having to control all their situations and it moves up the ladder. Certainly we need to do the best we can to control ours.''

Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns last year as a freshman despite missing three full games and parts of two others with knee and shoulder injuries.

Ross was frustrated most of last year because he saw diminished time when Clarett was healthy. He said he looked at Clarett's absence -- for however long it is -- as a chance to prove that he should be playing more.

''We're going about our business as we usually do, focusing on what we have to do out on the field,'' he said. ''We have a stable of solid running backs. We're all here to play and to contribute.''

Hall, who is also a junior, said he hoped Clarett returned to the team and was just trying to get himself ready for the rigors of the upcoming season.

''You have to take advantage of every opportunity you get, no matter how you get it,'' he said. ''That's what I'm going to try to do.''

Offensive lineman Shane Olivea said it didn't matter who was carrying the ball or playing tailback, that other players at other positions had to do their jobs first.

''It's like last year when he (Clarett) was injured,'' Olivea said. ''You felt for the guy, but you knew you had to move on.''