Ohio State doesn’t know who its starting quarterback will be this season.
The Buckeyes don’t know which offensive lineman the starting quarterback will be taking snaps from, either.
Even at other positions where the Buckeyes might have multiple players with proven ability to make a positive impact, there are still ongoing competitions this spring as players try to prove they belong in the starting lineup or at least deserve more playing time.
That surrounds the Buckeyes with plenty of uncertainty as they begin spring practice, as there are many position battles that will be contested over the next six weeks and potentially extending into fall camp.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, however, doesn’t see that as a bad thing.
The headlining competition of this year’s spring football season, of course, is the competition to replace J.T. Barrett as the starting quarterback. Meyer said Tuesday that the coaches are doing the best they can to give Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow "equal opportunity to compete" for that job, while redshirt freshman Tate Martell has "earned the right to compete as well."
There is a school of thought that suggests Ohio State would be better off having an established starting quarterback by the end of the spring. Meyer acknowledged that in a perfect scenario, it would good to know who that quarterback will be by the summer. Meyer also acknowledged that he has had conversations with Burrow, a redshirt junior who is set to graduate this semester, and his family about the possibility that Burrow could transfer if he does not win the starting job this spring, which could speed up the timetable for a decision.
All of that said, though, Meyer believes a quarterback competition that continues into fall camp – especially if Burrow decides to stay and compete – could make everyone better.
"I'd love to have them both (Haskins and Burrow) in the fall and let them keep battling it out," Meyer said. "We've had that before here, and I just think it keeps people on pins and needles and performance – it's science – that performance is better when you have someone, the discomfort of competition at times, that's where you're on point, you’re on point. If it's just by yourself, sometimes you have a tendency to be complacent."
As Ohio State decides who its starting quarterback should be, Meyer said the No. 1 factor that will be considered is competitiveness, followed by toughness, leadership and talent, in that order.
Meyer feels good about where the quarterback competition is at the beginning of spring, though, because he believes he has three quarterbacks who are ready and capable of proving that they are worthy of starting.
"I think when you have quality players going at it, there's no stress at all," Meyer said. "I think we'll be fine at quarterback. Who is it going to be? I don't know. But I know they work really hard and I see not two, but three guys that think they should be our quarterback."
Meyer said he is actually more stressed about the competition the Buckeyes are having this spring at center, where the Buckeyes are replacing another one of their key players from last season in Billy Price.
"I don't know who is going to be our center. I know we have some people that are going to go after it," Meyer said. "Center is every bit important as quarterback. I don't know if they're great players or not."
“I see not two, but three guys that think they should be our quarterback.”– Urban Meyer
Ohio State considers that position – where the Buckeyes are set to have a first-year starter (instead of moving a player over from another season, like they did with Price and Pat Elflein) for the first time since Jacoby Boren in 2014 – to be the "apex" of its offensive line, putting "a lot of pressure" on the Buckeyes to have a player they can trust in that spot.
Brady Taylor took first-team reps at center during Tuesday morning’s opening practice of the spring, while redshirt freshman Josh Myers took second-team reps behind him. Meyer mentioned Matthew Burrell and Joshua Alabi as offensive linemen who could also compete for that spot.
Ohio State was expected to have two spots of uncertainty and competition on its offensive line with the additional departure of left tackle Jamarco Jones from last season, but Meyer said Tuesday that Isaiah Prince is currently in line to start at left tackle, while Thayer Munford is penciled in to take Prince’s spot in the lineup at right tackle.
At the same time, though, Meyer said "there’s always competition," and that even extends to positions like running back, where the Buckeyes have two proven stars with a year of experience under their belt in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, both of whom want to be the first running back on the field. And once again, Meyer believes that competition between teammates – also extending to last year’s third-string running back Antonio Williams – will make everybody better.
"Who’s our tailback going to be? You ask Mike Weber, he thinks he is. J.K. thinks he is. And to me, that’s the coach's dream to have two people that quality that are swinging," Meyer said. "And Antonio has had a change of demeanor, too. Antonio walks around here like he wants to be the tailback. That's the perfect scenario for a coach. I wish I had two guys that were leaving spring saying, ‘I’m the quarterback.’ But we’ve practiced once. We'll find out."
All of those competitions – and many others, as there will certainly be hotly contested battles on defense and special teams, as well – will continue Thursday morning, when the Buckeyes return to the field for their second practice of the spring.