When it broke that star quarterback Braxton Miller had shoulder surgery in February, Ohio State described it as a “minor, outpatient” procedure. Six months later, who would’ve thought it’d all come to this?
Miller, who was the crux of a championship-fueled campaign, will miss the 2014 season after re-injuring his surgically-repaired throwing shoulder Monday afternoon, according to multiple reports. He had an MRI Tuesday morning, and according to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, he has a torn labrum. An Ohio State spokesman said the school plans on sending out a release, but hasn't done so as of early this evening.
It’s a dizzying and stunning series of events that started to unfold three weeks ago. Miller went from being “in the best shape of his life” to curiously limited in the team’s training camp.
But Miller, head coach Urban Meyer, and the rest of the coaching staff all maintained the senior and Heisman hopeful was fine. They said it was part of a plan to ease a tender arm back into throwing the ball after missing all of spring ball to recover from surgery. After a tepid Spring Game in April saw backup quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones flounder, life without Miller (and a trusted second option like Kenny Guiton) seemed like a nightmarish scenario. It's now a reality for the Buckeyes.
To fill the gaping void, Ohio State will most likely rely on the services Barrett, a redshirt freshman quarterback without collegiate game experience. But the Wichita Falls, Texas, native and former four-star recruit impressed Meyer enough to move "slightly" ahead of Jones on the depth chart. A source told Eleven Warriors Barrett took reps with the first-team offense Tuesday morning.
"He was always kind of a quiet guy," Meyer said Saturday. "He’s starting to act like a quarterback.”
Added offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman Monday: “The offense moves better when he’s in there," compared to Jones. “The offense moves more frequently when J.T. is the quarterback and that’s the sign of a good one.”
Still, it's hard to imagine either Barrett or Jones truly replacing a player the caliber of Miller, who gave Ohio State its best chance to reach the first-ever college football playoff. Without arguably the nation's best dual-threat quarterback, the Buckeyes will have to find a way to adjust their game plan to the talented, but considerably less dynamic and experienced options in Barrett and Jones.
Perhaps exacerbating an already frustrating situation, Ohio State still finds itself very much in the process of trying to fortify an offense that lost four multi-year starters on the offensive line, starting running back Carlos Hyde and top wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown. With tricky games against Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati in the first five weeks of the season, the Buckeyes will have to find a way to gel in spite of so many moving parts.
Without Miller, Ohio State's odds to win a national title in Meyer's third year in Columbus plummeted in among sportsbooks Tuesday afternoon. You have to figure its chances of winning a Big Ten championship also took a hit.
In short, Barrett, if he remains the starter, will be thrown into a very, very hot fire when the Buckeyes play the Midshipmen in Baltimore. Much will be expected of a quarterback with such little experience. And really, it's hard to definitively predict how Barrett will perform.
Days before Miller's surgery in February, Herman was asked to address Barrett during halftime of a basketball game against Northwestern.
“A ton of intangibles. He’s reworked his body since he got here, came in kinda pudgy as a would-be high school senior and has basically spent a whole year reworking his body," he said. "He’s shown a lot of leadership on the scout team this year so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do thrown into the fray."
Who would've thought those words would be this true, this soon?
“His high school coach, Jim Garfield, and his parents deserve a ton of credit because he is a hell of a leader. You wanna talk about intangibles and just being able to feel when guys kinda have that “it” factor? He’s got that. And then he’s got a quick release, he’s pretty accurate. Those things are what drew us toward him.
"He’s done laying in the weeds and now he’s gotta go get out of the weeds and go attack this thing.”