Built to last
Ohio State's Carpenter started with solid foundation
Ohio State LB Bobby Carpenter is considered a hard worker with a great attitude, characteristics the Patriots front office have traditionally looked for. (Harry How / Getty Images)
Word is, Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter is a Bill Belichick kind of guy.
Truth is, he is any football coach's kind of guy.
Ask Rob Carpenter. High school football coach. Father.
''People always ask me about a special play or game that stands out in memory, but I don't have one, not in football, anyway," said Carpenter, head coach at Lancaster (Ohio) High School. ''His big plays -- the sacks, the interceptions, the hits -- that's all fine and good, but really, I like watching him every play. Every play he's in a football position. Ready to play.
''And he does it with a lot of enthusiasm, and that's always something that's been contagious with teammates. He was the emotional leader on his junior high and high school teams, and the emotional leader at Ohio State.
''I like the way he approaches football in a workmanlike manner. He buckles it up every play. Coaches love to see that in a player."
It doesn't hurt that Bobby Carpenter's emotional leadership comes in a 6-foot-2 1/2-inch, 256-pound frame. Or that, like Belichick, he took to breaking down film at an early age.
After letting him be involved in swimming (his mother Susie is a swim coach), soccer, track, and basketball -- he hit the game-winning basket at the buzzer to win a junior high championship and an AAU title -- Rob Carpenter didn't allow Bobby to don shoulder pads in the seventh grade.
A former NFL player, the elder Carpenter understood the value of study in sport. He would tape all of his children's games, for the grandparents' enjoyment and instruction. When Bobby Carpenter watched himself on tape, he immediately began to critique his play, and soon was analyzing teammates and opponents.
''He took right to it," Rob Carpenter said.
At that time, Bobby was playing quarterback. When he arrived at Ohio State as a linebacker, he proved just as studious in and out of the classroom.
''The thing about Bobby, he's so bright," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said last week on Sirius NFL Radio. ''He watched his dad coach all that time. He's a very intelligent kid.
''He played defensive end for us. He can play [strongside linebacker]. He can play [middle linebacker]. He's just so bright. And great ball skills. We even moved him to tight end a little bit when we had some injuries and he caught balls.
''He brings a lot to the table and I think he's going to surprise some people in the NFL because [he's] a little bit in the shadow of A.J. [Hawk] from collegiate hype, but a special player."
As you might imagine, the radio show hosts immediately thought of the Patriots' Mike Vrabel, a former Ohio State linebacker who has performed all of those duties for Belichick in New England.
Like Vrabel, Carpenter would prefer to play outside, but he has the ability to play inside and can play out of a three-point stance on the edge in third-down situations.
''He's a guy who does a lot of things," Bobby Carpenter said of Vrabel. ''I tried to kind of pattern what I did this year off of him. The coaches put me in a situation to rush the passer a lot. He's someone in the offseason who I really talked to. He's the all-time sack leader at Ohio State, so I figured he knew something about rushing the passer a little bit. So I learned some from him."
That is fertilizer to the chitchat that Carpenter could end up with the Patriots. He is projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick, with many feeling he has made up whatever slip in rating he suffered when a broken fibula kept him from playing in the Senior Bowl or working out at the NFL combine.
''You know, it's interesting. The Patriots have spent a lot of time here," Tressel said. ''I think they like him a lot. I think they like [receiver] Santonio Holmes. I think they like [center] Nick Mangold. Obviously everyone loves A.J. Hawk, but he'll be long gone when they draft.
''But the Patriots, heck, they've had probably four or five or six different coaches here along, of course, with their personnel department. I think Bobby would be a good fit in their scheme."
The Patriots won't show their hand as to what they will do with the 21st pick of the first round, but clearly they have some interest in Carpenter, who believes he is a good fit for a 3-4 defense.
''Seeing a lot of teams go to the 3-4, I think, helps me," he said. ''It's another linebacker that they're going to need. And I guess, looking around, it's tough to find a whole lot of guys who have the size and weight to play outside linebacker in the 3-4.
''You have to be a bigger, physical guy with good speed. That's something that's kind of a commodity in today's game. I think that's something I can bring to the table."
Rob Carpenter has known Belichick for 25 years. After being drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1977 and playing fullback in a backfield that featured Earl Campbell, he was traded to the Giants in 1981, and spent four years with New York.
Belichick, Dallas coach Bill Parcells, and Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel were all there at that time.
''They were three of the hardest-working guys, on and off the field, and all of them understood the importance of player relations and making sure players were prepared," Carpenter said. ''That's what I took from them."
And it is something he used in his coaching to help his son become a player. Having a willing pupil made it easier.
''I'm a teacher, too," Carpenter said. ''Every teacher has a message, and some kids just don't respond. And then there are some that are always in the front row, watching you, paying attention, and they don't ever have a bad day. Bobby's one of those kinds of kids."
While most top draft prospects leave school to spend the spring preparing for the draft, Carpenter, a business economics major, continues to work on his degree. He has been working out early in the morning, but is otherwise bunkered in the library, as he has a term paper due Thursday.
Yet he took time out last weekend to go watch his younger brother Jonathan's spring game at the University of Cincinnati, and he'll probably make the 45-minute drive home to check out another younger brother's track meet tomorrow night.
It may be an exciting time in his life, but Carpenter doesn't often break his routine.
''He's a creature of habit," Rob Carpenter said. ''Everything's about routine to him. He sets goals and works toward them and he doesn't get distracted easily.
''Footballwise, he is already getting ready for the first minicamp with whomever drafts him. He's taking care of what he can control."
Coaches like that.