Urban Meyer is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to his quarterback situation in 2018.
With Joe Burrow gone to LSU, Meyer has just two healthy scholarship quarterbacks on his roster in Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell, as freshman Matthew Baldwin continues to recover from an ACL injury suffered in December.
Haskins is the clear favorite to be the starter when Ohio State opens the season against Oregon State on Sept. 1, but Martell has proven his value, showing off his running abilities in a pair of spring games in his short time in Columbus.
Prior to Burrow's transfer, it was clear that regardless of who won the starting job, Martell was going to have some kind of package of plays installed for him. Meyer knows he has to play the former five-star prospect, or Martell, like Burrow, could leave for another program. Martell, the former Gatorade High School Player of the Year, could probably start for a good majority of Div. I programs right now, and if he doesn't see the field at OSU soon, he will find a way to get on the field elsewhere.
Because of Burrow's transfer however, Meyer is in that tough spot previously mentioned. With virtually no depth behind Martell, does he risk injury to Martell by playing him meaningful reps in 2018? Or should he shelf Martell, and save him in the event that Haskins would go down?
There is only one real answer here: Play him, or lose him.
Like any competitor, Martell wants to play. He came from one of the top high school programs in the country where he was a multi-year starter. Sitting the bench all of last season wasn't exactly easy for him a season ago. He expects to play in 2018, either as the starter, or in a specialist role.
After watching both Haskins and Martell perform over the last two seasons, it is clear to me that Haskins is the better option right now. No. 7 can sling it like Cardale Jones, and is mobile enough to extend plays with his feet and run a handful of zone-reads, just enough to satisfy Meyer.
However, it is clear Haskins isn't the runner J.T. Barrett was in his time at Ohio State, and Martell might be the most dynamic quarterback with the ball in his hands since Braxton Miller. While some Ohio State fans might be sick of the zone-read or the obvious QB Power on 3rd-and-short, there is a reason Meyer has stuck with it all these years. It works, when run properly.
It is in this area where Martell can be of service to Ohio State. While the depth behind him isn't great, the reward of playing Martell in a wildcat-like package is greater than the risk of sitting him on the bench.
Martell isn't polished as a passer yet. He completed just 5-of-16 passes in the spring game, but he wasn't the Gatorade Player of the Year just because he can run. He has skills throwing the ball, and that makes him a weapon in a "wildcat" package, as teams will not be able to sell out against the run when he is in the game.
We saw a little bit of what that package might look like in the spring game, as Martell carried nine times for 59 yards. The only player to run the ball more than him was freshman running back Master Teague. The plays called for him were clearly different than the plays called for Haskins or Burrow. There is a reason for that.
The coaching staff is preparing him for a role in the 2018 offense. Meyer might be tempted to keep Martell off the field in meaningful situations in order to keep a healthy, legitimate alternative off the bench in the event Haskins gets hurt, but the risk is greater if he keeps Martell on the pine.
Haskins has a NFL arm, and one good season at Ohio State could be enough to propel him to the next level. Combine that with a hypothetical season in which Martell doesn't play, you could enter the 2019 season with Matthew Baldwin as your starter. While Baldwin has skills, that isn't a scenario Meyer wants to be in.
Ohio State has to play Martell in some capacity this season in order to keep him happy, or run the risk of losing him to another program like it lost Burrow. The risk of injury isn't as significant as the risk of sitting him for another season.