Spring brings warmer weather, rainy days and spring football practice. In the Ohio State football team’s case, this season’s spring practice comes with the chance for players to earn the right to take the field with the Scarlet and Gray this fall.
As the Buckeyes head into their final week of spring practice — punctuated with the Spring Game Saturday at Ohio Stadium — several position battles are still in full swing.
With starters out for the spring, like senior quarterback Braxton Miller — shoulder surgery — and senior tight end Jeff Heuerman — foot surgery — younger players have the opportunity to impress their fellow teammates and more importantly, coaches.
One of the most intriguing battles of the spring is for the backup quarterback spot between redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett. Senior wide receiver Devin Smith said both guys have made improvements with the extra reps received because of Miller’s absence.
“They have come along. I played with Cardale in the Big 33 (a Pennsylvania high school football all-star game) so I know how he does things,” Smith said March 27. “With J.T., he is one of those guys that loves to learn and he is very coachable, same with Cardale.”
Jones’ development has given him the opportunity to take the majority of snaps with the first team offense with Miller being out, but redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett said the experience Jones and Barrett are receiving is invaluable.
“It is great for them,” Vannett said. “There were times last year when Braxton had to come out of the game and I think for Cardale and J.T., getting the snaps now will prepare them for the fall because you never know your number is going to be called and I think they have both done really well.”
Redshirt-freshman tight end Marcus Baugh said he has worked with Jones and Barrett for most of his career at OSU and feels comfortable with the young guys in there.
“I have been working with J.T. since last summer, Cardale too,” Baugh said. “It is just trying to get the timing down.”
With Heuerman out for the remainder of spring practice, tight end coach Tim Hinton said Vannett and Baugh have an opportunity to show what they can do.
“Nick’s had a phenomenal spring so far and obviously getting a few more reps that Jeff’s a little nicked up,” Hinton said. “Each of those reps are opportunities to get better and improve.”
As for Baugh, Hinton said there have been some growing pains, but overall he is improving.
“Marcus is a young guy that’s gotta learn to do everything well. He’ll have spurts where he does some things really well, then he has spurts where he looks like a doggone freshman,” Hinton said. “I think our job is to get him looking good all the time. He battles, he fights and he doesn’t complain he just tries to make himself better. I’m very, very proud of him.”
Baugh, who has twice been cited for underage consumption since joining the program, said he has learned since then and is looking forward to competing for playing time.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Baugh said. “I have seen what I can do and coaches have told me what I can do. I am just trying to believe what they are teaching me.”
Hinton said he believes Baugh has matured and will rebound from his off the field issues.
“You know, the nice thing is Marcus knows — he clearly has a clear understanding that there’s expectations in this program,” Hinton said. “He knows what’s expected of him. He knows how to handle his life. Just every day we work to improve who he is as a person and make sure that he lives up to the expectations at Ohio State University.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to open the 2014 season Aug. 30 against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium at noon.