How important is Braxton Miller to Ohio State? Just pop in a tape of the spring game and you’ll quickly find out.
Neither Cardale Jones nor J.T. Barrett distinguished themselves in front of 61,000 fans in a sun-splashed Ohio Stadium. The backup picture is far more incomplete than last year’s masterpiece. Kenny Guiton was arguably the second best quarterback in the Big Ten last season.
At this point, who knows if Jones or Barrett could even start for another conference team. The vice president is a heartbeat away from the presidency, while Jones and Barrett are a hard hit away from ruling a Scarlet and Gray Empire. With Miller’s injury history, there’s a possibility one could start for Ohio State this season.
Head coach Urban Meyer named Jones the backup after the spring game, but it came with caution.
“Cardale was disappointing, but Cardale has had a good spring,” Meyer said. “I think he made some misses, but I’m not going to let that ruin his spring. He’s had a good spring for us.
“I wanted to be a little cleaner throwing the ball, but we didn’t do it.”
The offense’s shoddy outing led Meyer to exclaim, “Who cares? There are guys out there that will either never play or are not ready to play now.” A chunk of that statement is true, especially when the number of starters who didn’t play reached double digits. But two of the most important players on the field were Jones and Barrett.
In practices open to the media, Jones had the upper hand over Barrett, throwing accurate passes and moving the offense down the field. But both struggled with a live audience at the Horseshoe. Jones completed 14-of-31 passes for 126 yards, and Barrett connected on 17-of-33 passes for 151 yards.
There were zero touchdown passes and no completions longer than 35 yards. The numbers were far from eye-catching, unless they attracted attention for the wrong reasons. The second coming of Guiton is too much to ask for, but Meyer would have settled for a Scott McMullen.
He got neither.
“Braxton is the guy,” Jones said. “I still have work to do to enhance my abilities.”
It comes back to Miller’s value and adds pressure on the injury-prone quarterback to stay away from the sideline. That’s where he spent the better part of February, March and April after undergoing off-season throwing-shoulder surgery. During his recovery, Miller took mental reps and wore a contraption equipped with a microphone and camera that become known as “BraxCam.”
Calling out plays, recognizing defenses and tutoring backups became Miller’s daily chores. His rehab is reportedly on schedule and he should begin throwing again over the summer.
The reckless abandon style Miller exhibits is both a blessing and a curse for Ohio State. The athleticism and fearlessness allows Miller to make plays most quarterbacks don’t even think about when plays break down. But it also leads to plays, series and even games off.
Some sarcastically called Miller the MVP of the Scarlet and Gray game, pointing out how his absence proved too big for the stagnant offenses. If Guiton still had eligibility, a different game would have taken place. But he’s not quick to dismiss Jones or Barrett.
When Meyer was hired, Guiton went through his share of turbulent times before rounding the corner and becoming a leader, which culminated in playing hero for four games, setting records, becoming a bigger man on campus than Miller and being named a senior captain.
It’s possible Jones could be on a similar trajectory. He already has the turbulence crossed off, next comes playing time. Jones admitted he was humbled by his infamous tweet in October 2012 and isn’t the same person that shot down the idea of going to college to “play school.” The person who set him down the right path was none other than Guiton.
“I set an example for him, letting guys know what a quarterback should be like,” Guiton told Eleven Warriors at the spring game. “I didn’t have that reputation when Coach Meyer first came in. That’s when Cardale first came in, too, so all he saw was the bad things. I had to show him how a QB acts and that we’re held to a different standard. I think Cardale picked up on it real quick. He’s a smart guy. Once he picked up on that, the maturity kicked in and now he’s showing everyone how good he can be as a player.”
In spot duty, the backups will be better suited to succeed with a full complement of offensive weapons. But the pressure of a real game will be unlike a spring scrimmage. Jones has completed one pass in his career, Barrett’s never appeared in a game, period.
“Cardale has everything you want in an athletic quarterback,” Guiton said. “He has a strong arm, he’s smart, he’s a big-bodied guy. He’s everything you want. I know he has it in him. He just has to learn the style Coach Meyer wants him to play and catch up to the college game. He’ll be OK.”
The chance to prove himself is likely to arrive in a matter of months.