Ohio State's quarterback dilemma is no secret. The Buckeyes have three of the most accomplished signal callers in the country.
But while two of those guys — J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller — are recovering from injuries, spring practice this year was supposed to be the time where Cardale Jones — the quarterback who led Ohio State on a three-game run to a national championship — was able to gain a leg up in the competition as the only healthy guy. The battle wasn't supposed to really heat up until fall camp.
But as the Buckeyes wrapped up their fourth practice of the spring last Thursday, it didn't appear that way. Miller is still sidelined due to shoulder surgery and won't be able to fully throw until sometime this summer, but Barrett — despite fracturing his ankle just four months ago against Michigan — looks like he will be ready to go sooner rather than later.
Barrett is still limited in his mobility — it's only been four months since his injury — but, unlike Miller, he's still capable of throwing the football. And to the surprise of many, he was doing just that Thursday in 7-on-7 drills and looked a lot like the quarterback that broke nearly every Big Ten record in a season where he finished fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.
“It’s going to be a crazy battle and who knows who’s going to end up winning that spot.”– Taylor Decker
"He was doing a little bit more than I thought he could," head coach Urban Meyer said recently of Barrett. "We want to keep pushing him and getting him healthy."
Now, 7-on-7 drills are not live reps at quarterback; there is no pass rush. Barrett will still be hindered by his limited movement for the next few weeks until he's fully recovered. It takes roughly six months to recover from such an injury. It's already been four for Barrett.
He's still limited in his footwork drills and Barrett stands behind Jones and Stephen Collier when they go through theirs, mimicking the steps at a much slower pace.
But Barrett is still able to stand in the pocket and throw the ball against a live defense without a pass rush. And on Thursday, if you watched him throw, Barrett hardly looked like a guy who suffered a serious injury just four months ago.
“Nothing surprises me with J.T.," Ohio State offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. "He’s a hard worker, he does everything you can possibly do mentally and physically so he’s come along pretty good and it’s fun to have him out there.”
The competition to be the Buckeyes' starting quarterback is unlike any other in college football. No other program has three such highly-accomplished players. One has done it for three years, one for one season and the other for three games. But all bring something unique to the table.
Meyer won't name a starter until sometime during fall camp when all three are fully healthy. Until then, everything you hear regarding who is going to start Sept. 7 when the Buckeyes travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech is purely speculation. But that doesn't mean it's no fun to discuss.
"It’s going to be a crazy battle and who knows who’s going to end up winning that spot," Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker said.
The competition may just be heating up before many originally thought it would.