Tate Martell, Matthew Baldwin Must Be Ready To Play This Season As Joe Burrow Leaves Ohio State

By Dan Hope on May 9, 2018 at 8:35 am
Tate Martell
Tate Martell

Ohio State will enter the 2018 season with only one quarterback who has ever taken a snap in a collegiate game.

That quarterback is Dwayne Haskins, who became Ohio State’s presumptive starting quarterback for the upcoming season on Tuesday when Joe Burrow announced his decision to transfer from the program.

Burrow’s decision presumably came after the Buckeyes decided that Haskins would be their starting quarterback for the upcoming season, so his departure doesn’t change much in terms of who will start at quarterback. His departure has a bigger ripple effect, however, on the Buckeyes’ depth at the quarterback position, where they could now be one injury away from being in big trouble.

So while Haskins’ continued development will be important before he starts his first game in September, the development of redshirt freshman quarterback Tate Martell and true freshman quarterback Matthew Baldwin has now become equally important in the Buckeyes’ preparation for the season.

Martell, who also competed for the starting quarterback job this spring, should now be the Buckeyes’ No. 2 quarterback following Burrow’s departure. While the redshirt freshman could still have an opportunity to compete with Haskins for the starting quarterback job in fall camp, his spring game performance showed that he still has a long way to go in his development as a passer.

That might be enough to make Haskins the clear-cut choice to start at quarterback, but with Martell now positioned as the next man up, it’s crucial that he improves as a passer and is ready to play in any capacity needed by the time the season begins.

Although Martell completed only five of 16 passing attempts for 28 yards in the spring game, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day said he was pleased with the improvement he saw from Martell over the course of the spring as a whole.

"Tate did improve as a passer from last fall to the first practice of spring to the end of the spring," Day said at the conclusion of spring. "He did show a lot of improvement in some of his technique, and getting his front foot down and throwing the ball, so that was good."

Now, Martell must continue to build upon that in fall camp.

Martell isn’t simply expected to be an ordinary backup quarterback. While his coaches haven't confirmed it publicly, Martell himself has said on multiple occasions that he expects to see the field this year in some capacity, which likely means a situational package that takes advantage of his running ability – an area in which Haskins is not as adept as his predecessor, J.T. Barrett.

That was expected even before Burrow announced his decision to transfer, and Burrow’s decision to transfer wasn’t unexpected, so if Ohio State was already planning to implement a package for Martell, Burrow’s Tuesday announcement shouldn’t change that.

Putting Martell on the field in situations where he would often be running the ball, of course, increases the risk that he could suffer an injury, so that means Baldwin – the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster – must also be ready to play this season.

Ideally, the Buckeyes would probably prefer for Baldwin to redshirt, as every other true freshman scholarship quarterback has since Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State. While Baldwin was on campus this spring as an early enrollee, he was only a limited participant after undergoing knee surgery in January. As Baldwin continues to recover from that surgery while learning the ropes of Ohio State’s offense, the Buckeyes won’t be inclined to play him this season if they don’t need to.

They might have to, though, if anything happens to Haskins or Martell, because the only other quarterbacks set to be on Ohio State’s roster this upcoming season are sophomore walk-on Kory Curtis and incoming freshman walk-on Danny Vanatsky.

Whether the Buckeyes intend to play Baldwin this season or not, he’ll need to get enough reps in fall camp to be prepared in an emergency situation. And with only 29 preseason practices to get up to speed, he could face a steep learning curve leading up to the Buckeyes’ season opener against Oregon State.

That said, the four-star recruit from Austin, Texas, said in February that he came to Ohio State to compete, so while he knows he might not see playing time this year, he has his sights set on working hard so that he is ready whenever his time might come.

"These early years when you’re coming in … you’ve just got to kind of put your head down and work hard," Baldwin said. "So it’s hard to really take a huge leading position, but you’ve just got to put your head down and start making a reputation for yourself as someone who’s going to contribute to the team."

After coming into an offense that already had an established, experienced, multi-year starting quarterback in Barrett last year, Day’s ability to develop quarterbacks will be measured this season – at least initially – by how well Haskins performs in his second year of Day’s tutelage.

The true test of Day’s ability, though, could be making sure that the rest of the players in his room are ready to step in if needed, because the departure of Burrow leaves the Buckeyes with far greater uncertainty in terms of their quarterback depth.

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