Practice Report -Ready for a Platoon?

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Last updated: 08/18/2011 3:12 PM

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Ohio State Practice Insider: Ready for a Platoon?
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The more we get to see of Ohio State’s fall camp, the more it starts to feel like the Buckeyes will use two quarterbacks in the season-opener against Akron.

It has been a while since Ohio State had a platoon at quarterback, unless you count the Troy Smith-Justin Zwick fiasco from the 2005 Texas game. The Buckeyes tried to work in a rotation with Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor in 2008, but it wasn’t long before the star freshman took over full time in week four.

Does the same fate now await Joe Bauserman in 2011? The fifth-year senior has been taking the lion’s share of the snaps with the first-team offense since Pryor’s departure, but freshman Braxton Miller is hot on his heels.

After splitting reps evenly with the other two quarterbacks—Kenny Guiton and Taylor Graham—early in camp, Bauserman and Miller are taking about 90 percent of the reps with the first-team offense this week.

Bauserman seems to be getting about 50 percent of the snaps, with Miller taking the other 40 percent and Guiton getting a few series here and there that probably add up to about 10 percent of the snaps.

Head Coach Luke Fickell wouldn’t commit to a two-quarterback battle after practice Thursday, but it’s pretty clear that Guiton and Graham have dropped out of the race. They would need a great showing during Saturday’s jersey scrimmage to jump back into the race, because Fickell has always said he wants to see how these guys perform when the pressure is on.

Pressure on Bauserman

Joe Bauserman
Photo by Jim Davidson
Joe Bauserman

No one is facing more pressure right now than Bauserman, who is trying to hold off a talented group of youngsters for a job he’s been waiting on for four years. It is his job to lose, but it seems like just about everyone is picking him to do just that.

Few fans want to see Bauserman in the starting lineup on opening day, but what if he is their best option? Fickell said he wants to find the quarterback that best fits what the offense needs, and right now that is Bauserman. He is mobile enough to move around in the pocket and his passing has improved dramatically this week.

That doesn’t mean Bauserman is suddenly going to be Drew Brees back there in the pocket, but he was clearly the best passer again on Thursday. He threw a perfect ball to Corey “Philly” Brown at the start of practice and he continued to throw strikes to Jake Stoneburner, Philly Brown and the other pass catchers in traffic.

Bauserman has done a much better job this week of checking down or throwing the ball away instead of heaving it up for grabs, but he still has moments where he drops his arm slot and throws the ball into the dirt.  

The Braxton Watch

Braxton Miller
Photo by Jim Davidson
Braxton Miller

If Bauserman was the best passer Thursday, then Miller was probably even with Guiton for the second slot. He has a lot more zip on his passes than Guiton does, but he is still learning when and where to throw the ball.

It didn’t help that Miller seemed to face a lot of pressure in his face Thursday, but he looked very good pulling the ball down. At one point it looked like defensive end J.T. Moore had him dead to rights off the edge, but Miller sidestepped him and ran around the end for 10 yards.

At another point, Miller pump-faked the deep ball and threw a perfect strike to Verlon Reed on a comeback route. He also had some shaky throws Thursday, which is why he is still in the No. 2 spot behind Bauserman.

Missing Pieces

After working as Stan Drayton’s assistant during Tuesday’s practice, receiver DeVier Posey was conspicuously absent from Thursday’s practice. As in, he wasn’t even on the field. An OSU spokesperson said he wasn’t sure why Posey wasn’t at practice, but he is battling a minor injury at the moment.

Two other key players missing from the offense Thursday were tight end Reid Fragel and tailback Jaamal Berry. Fragel is still recovering from a second procedure on his infected right knee/leg, but he was back in pads Thursday. He didn’t take part in position drills or the 11-on-11 scrimmage, but Fragel was out there a little bit during 7-on-7 drills.

When he wasn’t out there, freshman Jeff Heuerman continued to work with the first and second groups behind Stoneburner. He continues to catch everything thrown his way and doesn’t seem to have a problem lowering his shoulder on linebackers or defensive backs.

Berry seemed to be battling a hamstring issue, and at one point he had an ice pack taped to the back of his upper thigh.

Red Zone Blues

J. T. Moore
Photo by Dan Harker
J. T. Moore

Individually, it looks like this OSU offense is going to have some good pieces to work with in 2011, but collectively they have struggled to put the ball in the end zone. Thursday’s red zone drill wasn’t as disastrous as Tuesday’s, but it wasn’t great either.

Braxton Miller took the first snaps with the offense in the red zone, but the first two plays were blown up by J.T. Moore, who went right around left tackle Andrew Norwell on first down and right tackle J.B. Shugarts on second down.

The closest Miller came to putting the ball in the end zone was a pass to redshirt freshman T.Y. Williams in the back corner. Williams has struggled catching the ball this fall, but he hauled in that pass from Miller, except he was a foot or two out of bounds.

The offense finally came through in the red zone when Bauserman connected with Williams on a great ball over the head of freshman corner Doran Grant. Other than that, they had to settle for two 42-yard field goals by Drew Basil.

No Mercy

Stan Drayton is an intense guy. That was easy to see from his first practice as the new wide receivers coach at Ohio State. Despite being “the new guy” on the offensive staff, Drayton is by far the most vocal and noticeable coach during practice. He is also the most physical.

Freshman Devin Smith found that out the hard way. Drayton told me last week that Smith has been blessed with talent and has all the tools to contribute as a freshman. It appears Drayton is going to force it out of him.

Stan Drayton coaches up Devin Smith
Photo by Jim Davidson
Stan Drayton coaches up Devin Smith

During a blocking drill with the wide receivers, Drayton gave Smith a lesson on what takes to be physical at the college level. On three straight reps, he threw Smith around and then tossed him to the ground like an offensive lineman matched up against a defensive back.

That was only the start of Smith’s troubles Thursday. He has been one of the team’s most reliable pass-catchers this fall, but he did not have a great day hanging on to the football after the incident with Drayton. At one point he dropped an easy one during drills and Drayton pulled him aside to make him do up-downs.

He also dropped a couple of tough ones in traffic during the scrimmage portion of practice.

The good news is that fellow freshman Evan Spencer picked Thursday to have his best day of camp. He quickly became just about everyone’s favorite target, and was making catches all over the field. Verlon Reed and Philly Brown also looked good catching the ball.

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