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Joe Burrow makes case for backup quarterback job in Ohio State’s spring game

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OSU redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Burrow (10) hands the ball off during the spring game on April 16 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Muyao Shen | Asst. Photo Editor

OSU redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Burrow (10) hands the ball off during the spring game on April 16 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Muyao Shen | Asst. Photo Editor

J.T. Barrett, barring injury, will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback for the 2016 season. There is no question about that.

Cardale Jones and his rocket arm are gone.

And although he played wide receiver a season ago, the shadow of Braxton Miller, the former electric signal caller who was the Big Ten’s quarterback of the year twice, has faded.

It’s Barrett’s time. It’s Barrett’s team.

But, of course, someone has to be the redshirt junior’s backup, ready to fill in if needed, especially knowing what’s happened in OSU’s past two seasons.

Indeed, Barrett himself has twice been a backup thrust into the starting role while at OSU — first taking over for Miller in 2014, then for Jones during the last season.

After his performance in the Buckeyes’ annual spring game, Joe Burrow seems to have made a strong case to be No. 2 on the depth chart.

“I feel like I did what I needed to do this spring,” he said.

The redshirt freshman’s development had been lauded throughout spring practice by OSU coach Urban Meyer, and following a rocky opening possession on Saturday, Burrow backed it up, completing 14 of 23 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Gray team to a 28-17 win over Scarlet.

Yes, Burrow’s performance came in a hyped-up scrimmage, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. He didn’t play great. In fact, his first series was a disaster. It lasted just three plays and he was sacked twice. His receiver dropped a pass on the other down.

He recovered as the day went on, yet still, he said he thought his performance was just “OK.” But it was noticeably better than redshirt sophomore Stephen Collier, Burrow’s competition for the backup job until 2016 recruit Dwayne Haskins arrives. Collier, at times, looked uncomfortable, completing four of his 11 passes for 154 yards.

Meyer agreed with Burrow’s assessment, but after previously having doubts about his ability, watching him toss three touchdowns and drop a few pinpoint passes in front of 100,189 fans was gratifying for the coach.

“He was a guy that last year I had my concerns last season, just arm strength to release, twitch, ability to run the ball,” Meyer said. “He’s gotten better and better.”

Burrow admitted that seeing the stands crammed with scarlet and gray was “overwhelming.” That, however, is exactly what Meyer wanted. It’s why the three-time national champion coach lobbied fans to come out in full force — even for a practice.

If Burrow is called upon during the regular season, he has to be able to play at a high level, which means not letting six-figure crowds be a distraction. There can be no step back if Barrett, for whatever reason, cannot play. Meyer put it bluntly during his postgame press conference.

“If you play quarterback at Ohio State in this offense, you have to be a Heisman candidate, or we’re going to suffer,” he said.

Burrow, obviously, is light-years away from that level. He knows that.

“I still have a long way to go,” he said.

But he showed enough on Saturday to wipe away any doubts about if he will one day be able to play big-time college football.

“I took a big step this spring,” he said. “And I’m going to have to take a big one before fall camp.”

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