At Ohio State, Cautious Optimism Abounds as Season Opener Nears

By Patrick Maks on August 26, 2014 at 2:41 pm

In one swift swoop of a sentence, Urban Meyer summed up what Braxton Miller has meant to Ohio State football for the last three seasons:

“Braxton made a lot of bad plays right with his athleticism," Meyer said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches teleconference. 

And to reiterate the obvious, life without Miller, who will miss the season after tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder for the second time in eight months, will be come with growing pains for Meyer and the No. 5-ranked Buckeyes.

You don't simply replace a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and Heisman candidate, after all. 

But Ohio State says it's in position to mitigate the crushing loss of its most important player. It starts with J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman quarterback who hasn't played competitive football since Oct. 2012, who is tasked with filling Miller's massive shoes. 

"We all know what's coming down the barrel at him," Meyer said of a looming season opener against Navy Saturday. "But he's handled it very well."

Added Meyer Monday: "He's a calm guy that had a very good practice today, like really good practice today, and very business like about his approach. He's not someone you have to watch to see their demeanor, because it's the same as it was two weeks ago."

Back then, Barrett was simply another name on a roster and a face in the crowd. Now, he's preparing to take command of a team that still has championship aspirations with or without the ultra-talented and important Miller. 

Optimism surrounding Barrett, who Meyer called a "meticulous" fellow that reminds him of former backup quarterback and fan-favorite Kenny Guiton, abounds in Columbus.

"All his positives are really coming out right now; I saw it before the injury but I really see it right now," Meyer said. 

The things Meyer and Co. like to point to are Barrett's leadership qualities and a calm, cool, personality that might help ease an offense replacing four offensive lineman, its starting running back and top wide receiver. 

"He's not a loud guy," Meyer said. "Very confident guy, though. A lot like our previous quarterback, Kenny. They kind of migrate, to him."

Senior tight end and captain Jeff Heuerman said Wednesday: "You guys don’t know J.T. very well, but he’s kind of a quiet-spoken guy but when he gets in that huddle, he takes control of it.

"Like I said, he does everything right and when someone does everything right, that’s who you look up to. He’s a great lead by example type of guy."

Thing is, though, none of us really know J.T. Barrett very well.

He's never played a game of college football. So it's hard to definitively say how he'll perform when it matters against the Midshipmen and every Saturday from here on out.

Confidence in his ability to steer the Buckeyes toward success is fine, but it should could come with caution. 

The expectation is that Barrett, who Meyer called a "distributor," will be able to spread the football around to an influx of talented, but unproven, playmakers on offense. 

"We’ll bounce back, it’s not the end of the world," Heuerman said of Miller's absence. "We’re not gonna forfeit any games, you’re not gonna just quit. We’ve been through adversity before, it’s just another stepping stone. We’ll get through it."

But, to be sure, so much of it hinges on Barrett regardless of the hope and positive attitudes surrounding his unexpected ascension to the most important position on the Ohio State football team. 

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