Most nights, Luke Fickell sleeps soundly. But Sunday night wasn't just another night.

Most nights, Luke Fickell sleeps soundly.

But Sunday night wasn't just another night. More than two months after Fickell took the Ohio State coaching job following the forced resignation of Jim Tressel, the day he'd awaited was at hand. Ohio State finally began preseason football camp yesterday.

So ZZZ's were replaced in Fickell's mind by X's and O's.

"It was exciting," he said yesterday. "It's been a long time coming - a couple months. The biggest thing was the excitement. About 2:30 in the morning, you're ready to go. Hopefully, a bunch of guys felt that way."

After an offseason in which the school took an eraser to their 2010 results and the Buckeyes lost their coach and three-year starting quarterback, Ohio State finally got to start preparation for the 2011 season in earnest.

"Every first day of camp, you're so excited about getting back to football," Fickell said. "Obviously, a little bit more this year with some changes and some different things. I think it's therapeutic for a lot of us, as much the coaches as the players."

Players were not in pads, so there was no tackling, making any judgments were wildly premature. But the enthusiasm and competitive fire were obvious. New linebackers coach Mike Vrabel was particularly vocal, alternating criticism with thumbs-ups. Fickell got in the middle of drills, yelling, "Hustle, hustle!"

Much of the attention this summer will be on the quarterback competition. With Terrelle Pryor gone, Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton are competing with freshmen Taylor Graham and Braxton Miller. The players took reps in that order.

Fickell put no timetable on when he would start to winnow the field for the job.

"I hate to make judgments on anybody on the first day, especially before watching film," Fickell said. "They hustled around, did what they were asked to do, and we'll continue to evaluate them as they go."

For what it's worth, Graham and Guiton were each intercepted for touchdowns - Graham by C.J. Barnett and Guiton by Zach Domicone. Miller threw with zip and accuracy, though his passes wobbled a bit.

Fickell, the former co-defensive coordinator, didn't meddle with the offense, and says he won't. But he moved from station to station, making his presence felt.

"I had a plan to maybe bug some guys (assistant coaches and players)," Fickell said. "I said 'Hey, I'm going to be with you this period, this period, this period,' just kind of to make sure I had something to do as I figure out exactly how the whole thing works itself out from day to day.

"I was definitely busy. I hope I didn't step on too many toes."

Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas didn't practice because of what's believed to be a minor injury, but the other players suspended for the first five games - receiver DeVier Posey, running back Daniel Herron and offensive tackle Mike Adams - did participate, mostly with the second unit.

Posey looked sharp, unlike some of the other receivers. But whatever jitters there might have been became secondary to the excitement that football was back.

"You don't win it the first day, but you can go out and get hurt and have problems the first day," Fickell said. "I think we got through it very nice.

"It's about action. That's the biggest thing we stress with our guys. We've had enough talk."

Fickell acknowledged that it was a relief to finally have the first practice under his belt.

"Yeah, I think for everybody," he said.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com