Through six practices, all Urban Meyer and Tom Herman can do is watch and evaluate Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. There’s one giant name missing from that conversation: Braxton Miller.
Jones and Barrett remain the head honchos due to Miller’s offseason shoulder surgery. And it’s Jones, somewhat surprisingly, that’s kept the upper hand on the backup quarterback derby. It’s no doubt an open competition. But many believed Barrett would seize the opportunity and distance himself. Nothing of the sort has happened.
“I think it’s telling that through six practices, Cardale Jones is still getting the majority of the reps with the ones,” Herman said Tuesday. “To say that he’s head and shoulders in front or has taken a step forward, I don’t know that that would be accurate. But he hasn’t done anything to not deserve to take those reps.”
Jones, a redshirt sophomore by way of Glenville and Fork Union Military Academy, is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound mass of athleticism equipped with the strongest arm on the team. There aren’t visions of starting this season, though.
Both quarterbacks understand that Miller’s post is protected until he returns in August. If Kenny Guiton couldn’t swipe away the starting job, Jones and Barrett have zero chance.
But the duo’s been handed an opportunity few backups receive – 15 practices at the control’s of one of the nation’s most efficient offenses all with Meyer and Herman observing. It’s not only a jumpstart on life without Miller, which is just one year away. It also serves as a period of immense growth for both Jones and Barrett.
“I tell those two guys all the time, ‘Just be you,’” Herman said. “Their strengths are so different. J.T. gets paid a scholarship to make great decisions, to get the ball out of his hands and be accurate. Cardale is 6-5, 250 and can throw it through a wall. Use the talents you have and we’ll develop the portions of your game that need to be developed.”
In Saturday’s scrimmage, the first winner-loser day of the spring, the defense walked off the field as victors, as neither Jones nor Barrett distinguished himself. In limited appearances in front of the media, Jones has dealt with accuracy issues while Barrett’s displayed happy feet in the pocket.
“Everything about spring ball is a learning experience. These guys are doing that each and every rep they take.”– Tom Herman
Herman chalked up Saturday’s issues to inexperience and being edgy with a large audience watching. The alarm bells won’t be sounding anytime soon.
“It was, ‘This is my scrimmage on a winner-loser day running as the quarterback with the first offense at The Ohio State University, and I’m nervous as hell,’” Herman said. “It showed. They weren’t real happy with me. I told them they played like – I used a couple of words than can’t be printed. They got upset, and they should be. But not at me, at themselves for not demonstrating poise and confidence they had shown in the first four practices.”
The man who will take close to 100 percent of Ohio State’s snaps this season continues to be a spectator. Miller does so standing behind the offense with a camera strapped to his hat – “Braxton Cam,” as Herman calls it – and a microphone.
Practices are spent taking mental and verbal reps. Miller explains the defenses and how the offense should operate. When practice ends, the videotapes are reviewed.
“He needs those reps,” Meyer said. “What can you do? He’s doing everything we ask of him.”
Herman admitted it’s frustrating to not have Miller in action, but moping solves nothing. The coaches are preparing him for the future – this coming season and beyond. Developing without being on the field comes from being observant, and the goal in regards to Miller is to expand his football vocabulary.
Being elite in the NFL isn’t simply having an accurate arm and mobile legs. Quarterbacks must be well versed in the terminology and level of communication. It’s all becoming part of Miller’s vernacular. When August arrives, he could be tagged with Guiton’s “Coach” nickname.
“Braxton has always been football smart,” Herman said. “You don’t get to do the things he does on a football field without it. Speaking the language, like a coach, was foreign to him. We’re trying to develop that as much as possible.”
In-game improvement is always possible, but Miller averaged 264.5 yards per game last year, accumulating more than 3,000 yards of offensive. That was 44 percent of Ohio State’s output. And that came while missing three games with an injury.
Understand why Jones and Barrett’s practice time is so valuable?
“Everything about spring ball is a learning experience,” Herman said. “These guys are doing that each and every rep they take.”