Offseason shoulder surgery will make Braxton Miller more of a spectator than participant during Ohio State’s upcoming spring drills. But it won’t take eyes away from the quarterback position. While intrigue surrounds Miller’s health and throwing shoulder, it’s the competition for the backup job that’s certain to attract eyeballs.
For the Buckeyes, it will serve as a sneak peek to what life without Miller will be like. In 10 months, that will become a reality. Three scholarship quarterbacks will vie to be No. 2, with redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett expected to take a majority of the reps. True freshman Stephen Collier's time will arrive in the future when experience, coaching and intangibles take hold.
Neither Jones nor Barrett lacks confidence, a hallmark of any elite quarterback.
“The young guys redshirting last year, they have big shoes to fill,” Miller said. “They’re going to be outstanding when they first step out at spring practice.”
On Day 1, Jones will be the first man behind Miller. There’s an asterisk next to that status, though, according to offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Jones earned that position by experience – and it’s subject to change. It’s all about proof. Herman and head coach Urban Meyer want someone appropriately suited to take the reins if needed.
With Miller behind center, a competent backup is a necessity. He’s missed game action in all three seasons at Ohio State and hasn’t gone through an entire season without a hiccup since his sophomore year at Huber Heights Wayne.
The Buckeyes doubled as California miners the past two years, striking gold with Kenny Guiton. Can they duplicate that success with Jones or Barrett? Guiton leaves Ohio State with multiple school records, and his turnaround began under the tutelage of Meyer and Herman.
But it didn’t come without growing pains, which is not dissimilar from Jones’ situation. He became infamous during his redshirt freshman season for an ill-advised tweet lamenting the usefulness of class.
“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS,” he wrote.
It earned Jones a one-game suspension, along with scorn and embarrassment. The tweet actually found its way into an Ole Miss textbook as an example of poor social media practices. But Jones went through a maturation process and moseyed out of the doghouse.
“He’s a lot smarter than you think,” Herman said. “He’s kind of the class clown, but I think he’s grown up a lot and continues to grow up. All the things we’ve seen in the offseason and off the field now have to start translating onto the field.”
At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Jones might seem oversized, but he possesses a big-time arm and the elusiveness Buckeye coaches want in a quarterback. Missing from his gamut of skills is consistency, not that game appearances yield much in the way of evaluating. He was 1 for 2 passing and had 17 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Practice is when coaches gage Jones’ level of play.
“He’s a good player,” Herman said. “A lot more decisive than maybe some people think. He’s got a ton of physical talent.”
Behind Jones is the signal-caller many believe will ultimately succeed Miller. Barrett was handpicked by Herman as his first quarterback signed at Ohio State. But that was prior to an ACL injury during Barrett’s senior year of high school. You won’t sense any reluctance in Herman’s voice, though. He believes modern medicine allowed Barrett to return as the same player.
Who that player is is a 6-foot-1, 222-pound accurate thrower with athleticism and leadership qualities that could make coaches envious over the next four years. Barrett was a record-setting machine in Texas, completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,605 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 1,521 yards and nine scores as a junior.
That’s the Barrett Herman couldn’t live without. And the player Ohio State hopes it gets.
“J.T. has a ton of intangibles,” Herman said. “He’s reworked his body since he got here. He came in kind of pudgy and basically spent a whole year reworking his body. He’s shown a lot of leadership on the scout team [in 2013], so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do when thrown into the fray with live bullets.”
It became common for Meyer and Herman to shower Guiton with praise, and it could be playing out again with Barrett. They’ve been quick to credit parents, high school coaches and others for high character.
“You want to talk about intangibles and just being able to feel when guys have that ‘it’ factor, he’s got that,” Herman said. “He has a quick release, he’s pretty accurate, and those things are what drew us toward him. Now he’s done lying in the weeds. Now he has to get out of the weeds and attack this thing.”
Confidence won’t be lacking.
The Jones-Barrett Duel will give Buckeye Nation a glimpse into the future and highlight the potential that could become authentic in a matter of months.
Said Barrett: “Every day, you’re just trying to be a better quarterback.”