With the start of its season less than two weeks away, the Ohio State football program may need to turn to its bench before the opening kickoff.
If senior quarterback and potential Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller’s shoulder injury is significant, the Buckeyes will likely rely on redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett to lead the offense during Miller’s absence.
Throughout the spring and into fall camp, it was redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones who was the front-runner to backup Miller, but according to coach Urban Meyer, Barrett has overtaken that position.
“(Barrett) has moved slightly ahead of (Jones) in the quarterback derby,” Meyer said Aug.16. “That is because of his opportunities…he has grown up a little bit. He was always kind of a quiet guy and he is starting to act like a quarterback.”
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman echoed Meyer’s comments on Monday and said the offense can still operate efficiently with Barrett behind center.
“The offense moves more frequently when (Barrett) is the quarterback, and that’s the sign of a good one,” Herman said.
The main difference between Miller’s freshman campaign and Barrett’s could be the extra year Barrett has had to learn the college game.
Miller, who was thrust into a starting role in 2011 as a true freshman, did not have an experienced predecessor to learn from following Terrelle Pryor’s departure from the program. Meyer said he believes that inexperience hurt Miller’s progression as a football player.
“The normal progression of a freshman is to come in and play behind a monster,” Meyer said following OSU’s spring game April 12. “He (Miller) came in and we had the Terrelle Pryor issue and he left and all of a sudden Braxton was the guy. That’s not the way to do business. So that set him back more than it helped him.”
Barrett however, has not only had more than a year to learn from the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, he has taken the majority of the snaps with Jones in the spring and fall camps with Miller being held out of practice.
The redshirt-freshman led the Gray team to a 17-7 win in the 2014 OSU spring game, completing 17 of his 33 pass attempts for 151 yards, including a 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Barrett was the first quarterback recruit signed by Meyer and his coaching staff at OSU as a four-star prospect out of Wichita Falls, Texas.
Despite suffering a season ending knee injury in the fifth game of his senior year of high school, Barrett managed 569 yards rushing with seven touchdowns and 784 yards passing with five scores before getting hurt.
During his junior campaign, Barrett rushed for more than 1,500 yards with nine touchdowns and passed for better than 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns, leading Rider High School to the state quarterfinals.
That kind of production will be needed from Barrett if he is thrust into a starting role, as Miller alone accounted for 44 percent of OSU’s offensive yardage last season.
With or without Miller, OSU is scheduled to take on Navy Aug. 30 at noon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.