Urban Meyer is focused on improving the offense, knowing that J.T. Barrett will follow.
Photo by Jim Davidson
A quarterback is only as good as the players around him. That was the refrain from Urban Meyer and Tom Herman as J.T. Barrett was setting records every single week for the Buckeyes back in 2014. It was also repeated again and again during the offensive inconsistencies of 2015 and 2016.
From the outside, someone sees Barrett throw an incomplete pass to a receiver and it is the quarterback who gets the blame, rather than perhaps the lack of protection, a lack of separation, or simply a poorly-designed play. No position in sports is as demanding and glory-inviting as quarterback, and it goes both ways when it comes to accolades and blame.
Regardless of the blame, it was clear last year that Barrett was not the same player he was as a redshirt freshman. There are several reasons for that, so when it comes to this spring, Urban Meyer wants to work on each of those reasons, and they don't just begin and end with the quarterback.
"Running the football is complicated, but throwing the football is even more complicated," Meyer said. "The first place you always start is with pass protection and obviously that was not a strength of ours last year. And I just want to see more accuracy."
With two new offensive coordinators under Meyer's roof, it was important to him to explain to Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day what he wanted the 2017 offense to look like, and exactly what has been missing.
"We went back and watched our best games that we’ve had here," he said. "The offensive coordinator, myself, Ryan Day, I wanted everyone to watch – this is our vision, this is our dream. Very balanced. We’re not changing who we are. We have to get back to being that productive 250-250. Great tempo in between plays, aggressive play calling, and that run of Wisconsin, Alabama, Oregon were perfect examples, and Michigan State in 2014. And there’s plenty of other games, but I made them watch and I sat down and ran the clicker and said, ‘This is what I want it to look like.’
"And the one common denominator in all of those games is that we hit the deep ball. It’s who we are. We’re going to pound the football at you, then we’re going to go over the top. When that works, life is pretty good offensively. When it doesn’t, when you misfire or you get sacked or have a problem, that’s obviously when it doesn’t. So the emphasis is going to be on hitting the deep ball."
Hitting the deep ball isn't just going to happen with an accurate throw from a strong-armed football god. It's going to take protection for a longer period than normal and it's going to require a receiver to create enough space to allow for a football to come down unencumbered. It will then require said receiver to actually catch the football.
That's a lot more involved than simply throwing a good ball, which is why they are working on every nuance and piece of the deep ball puzzle. This isn't a one-trick fix, this is layers of solutions whisked together until firm.
That being said, Meyer and Barrett both know that there is plenty of growing that can be done, even though the head coach won't really pinpoint one particular area where he wants Wilson and Day to concentrate when it comes to his quarterback. Instead, he wants the larger focus on the offense, because it's not like Barrett was the only player with faults last season.
"If you had to say one thing, I can’t really give you one thing," Meyer said. "I think it’s more the offense. There’s one thing interesting, Alex Smith was my quarterback at Utah and I remember he got drafted by the 49ers and the 49ers weren’t very good back then, and I started getting all of this feedback, ‘Well, Alex Smith is a bad quarterback.’ And he was a bad quarterback because he was on a very bad team. What happens is quarterbacks get a lot of time far too much credit when everybody’s playing well around them, and then they get a lot of the blame.
"So when we’re playing well, like against Nebraska, J.T. obviously played great. When the offensive line or maybe the receivers weren’t playing well, or maybe he wasn’t, he gets a little bit of the criticism. It comes with the job description. There’s a lot of things he has to work on. Most importantly let’s just get better on offense."