Ohio State isn't just searching for a new starting quarterback this spring, it's searching for a new leader.
It's no secret that J.T. Barrett commanded the locker room throughout his time in Columbus, even before he was a formal member of the team. Barrett has been the unquestioned leader of the team for the better part of four years, his impact so strong he was even named a captain of the 2015 team despite not earning the starting job during the spring.
As the Buckeyes look to replace him this spring, that's what they'll miss most – the unquantifiable alpha presence in the locker room, the ultra-competitive captain that drives everyone to get better, the solid rock in trying circumstances. He was the heartbeat of the team.
"I think the best leader is going to win the job."– Joe Burrow
With Barrett gone, Ohio State is looking for someone else to fill that role and take command of the team. And in a tight quarterback battle, the player who emerges as the team's best leader might just be the one who earns the spot.
"I think the best leader is going to win the job," Joe Burrow said. "Because obviously, J.T. was the leader of the team last year and someone's going to have to step up."
Burrow may not be that far off with that prediction. Based everything the coaching staff says, intangibles such as leadership and toughness are valued equally, if not more than throwing ability.
"Really, what we want is we want great leaders," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day said. "When we look at quarterbacks to evaluate quarterbacks, we’re looking for guys who are competitors, guys who are tough, guys who are leaders, guys who have great football intelligence and then also guys who are great decision-makers."
After following Barrett throughout their entire Buckeye careers, each of the three quarterbacks now competing for the starting job know the standard, but with three guys fighting to emerge as that top dog in the locker room, things aren't always easy.
"That's the issue – you're all three fighting for it and you're all three trying to be leaders at the same time," Burrow said. "You have to find your niche. You have to find where you fit into the team and where your leadership role is."
For Dwayne Haskins, he believes his leadership niche is the relationships he's formed with the other players on the roster.
"I feel like I am a pretty great leader. I think I do a good job of involving all of my teammates. I feel like I am pretty close with everybody including the offensive linemen, tight ends, running backs and receivers," he said. "Being a leader, having a relationship with your teammates – if you disconnect with them, they won't follow you."
All three quarterbacks are under a microscope this spring as coaches are watching every throw and charting every completion. But if the battle is as close as it seems from the outside, it may be the intangibles that finally pushes someone to the top.