When a team loses its senior Heisman-candidate quarterback, it can typically expect to see a big drop off in its offensive strength.
If you ask Ohio State redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett, though, he’ll tell you that won’t necessarily be the case as redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett takes the place of the injured Braxton Miller.
“I think with the way they (Barrett and redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones) have been playing right now, I don’t think we’ll skip a beat,” Vannett said Monday after practice. “I think we’ll be just fine.”
While Barrett has yet to take a snap outside of practice for the Scarlet and Gray, he and Jones have been practicing with the first-team offense since the spring. Miller initially injured his shoulder against Clemson in the Orange Bowl to end last season, paving the way for Barrett and Jones to get the only significant reps at quarterback in spring practice.
Miller was limited again this fall because his shoulder was sore after an offseason surgery. And then he tore his throwing shoulder labrum in practice Aug. 18.
Vannett said practice time will help the offense continue on the same beat going forward, even though the team initially expected Miller to make a full recovery from the first injury.
“We did a really (good) job with our quarterbacks, 0having J.T. and Cardale getting reps in the spring as well with (Miller) out,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a last minute thing where we’re just jumping in and kind of rushing stuff.”
Senior wide receiver Evan Spencer said there will be changes to the offense, but agreed that Barrett, as well as Jones if he plays any reps, will be ready to go because of the amount of practice time they’ve had since the season ended.
“They’ve been throwing the ball so much all throughout camp, and really all throughout the offseason, that it’s not that much of a transition for us just because that’s what we’ve been going through,” Spencer said.
While many wrote off OSU as a contender in the National Championship race after Miller went down, Spencer said he’s seen enough in practice to have plenty of confidence heading into the season.
“Personally, I think what we’ve been seeing out at practice — and a lot of the other seniors can back me up — is … we’ll be way more than all right this year,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer said he believes Barrett and Jones have been up to the challenge since Miller was injured, and the changes at the position will be helped along by a plethora of talented receivers.
“J.T. and Cardale responded very well (after Miller’s injury),” Meyer said at a Monday press conference. “The biggest issue I see, or the positive we have right now, is we have a good one and two group of receivers that are just rotating out.”
Meyer said there will be six different receivers rotating through the lineup, with the plan being to give Barrett the freshest and most rested targets possible throughout OSU’s season opener.
Even though Meyer announced Barrett as the No. 2 quarterback before Miller went down with his injury, he said there isn’t a big gap between his and Jones’ talent. The third-year OSU coach confirmed, though, that Barrett is the starter heading into the season.
Meyer also said it would be possible for Jones to come in for Barrett if the latter doesn’t perform up to expectations in the first weeks of the season.
Regardless of his performance on the field, Spencer said the team has confidence in Barrett as a leader, which is a role he has taken on since Miller’s injury.
“You could kind of tell from the beginning of camp that (Barrett) was trying to work on his maturity and his leadership as a young player,” Spencer said. “But after Braxton went down in practice, I think he kind of realized pretty quickly, ‘All right, well, time to take a leadership role.’”
Spencer said as soon as the team realized Miller would be out, Barrett stepped up to the challenge of filling those shoes.
“In the huddle from then on, when (Barrett) was in practice and doing stuff like that he was just making sure that he was keeping people going,” Spencer said. “If we were having a rough day, he was making sure that we’d stay up, that we’d stay motivated.”
Meyer said one of the first things he noticed about Barrett was his competitive spirit. He said Barrett isn’t any louder as a leader than Miller, but added the’s “very confident.”
Spencer said Miller and Barrett have different leadership qualities, but said both are good at what they do. He added Barrett is a strong motivator and he’s excited to see what happens going forward.
OSU’s first game of the season is scheduled for Saturday against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for noon.