Spring Forecast: Quarterback
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even though there is snow on the ground and the temperature in Columbus currently reads 19 degrees, we are getting very close to some football.
Ohio State's spring practice kicks off on Tuesday, March 5th, which is only two weeks away. After going 12-0 last season, fans and media are wondering what 2013 will bring. Expectations are high for the Buckeyes, who find themselves in just about every pundit's preseason top-five list.
Whether or not those expectations are met will depend on many things, though the first place most people will look will be at quarterback. Few schools return what the Buckeyes do at that position, which is why few teams possess the expectations that have been cast upon Ohio State.
Who's Coming Back?
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes return all three of their scholarship quarterbacks from last season, including starter Braxton Miller, and also add one of the nation's top freshman signees in J.T. Barrett as well.
Miller is coming off of a 2012 season which saw him throw for 2,039 yards (15 TD, 6 INT) and rush for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was named the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year, and also won the Chicago Tribune's prestigious Silver Football, which is awarded to the Big Ten's top player.
Miller showed himself to be one of the most dynamic players at any position in the nation last year, as well as one of the most feared.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Kenny Guiton, as Ohio State's backup quarterback, proved to be a very valuable contributor to the Buckeyes last season. He only threw for 139 yards last season, but they were generally important yards.
Guiton's most notable contribution came against Purdue when Miller went down with an injury. Trailing 22-14 with 47 seconds left, Guiton drove the Buckeyes down for a touchdown with three seconds remaining on the clock, and then converted on a perfectly thrown two-point conversion to tight end Jeff Heuerman to send the game into overtime.
It was a perfect example of what the Buckeyes had in "the old right-hander", as Urban Meyer called him, and it's a perfect example of what the Buckeyes will have again in 2013.
Also returning will be Cardale Jones, who redshirted as a true freshman last season. He came into the season incredibly raw and rarely took a meaningful snap in practice. However, he has tremendous measurables (6-5 235), a big arm, and can move.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
The expectation for Braxton Miller is that when he steps foot on the field for Ohio State's first spring practice, he will be much more fundamentally sound than he was last year.
Urban Meyer and Tom Herman have both talked about how Miller's mechanics would wane under pressure, which contributed to his numbers diminishing as the season wore on and as the Buckeyes faced better opponents.
Miller spent time over Ohio State's winter break visiting with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. in San Diego. One of the areas that Whitfield worked with Miller was "chaos mechanics", citing consistency and organization after breaking free from a pass rush.
He will be expected to be a better and more complete quarterback overall, but not having bowl practices to cap last season will still put Miller and the rest of the Buckeyes behind a bit.
Guiton will continue to be expected to be able to step in and do what he does. Herman wants him to be the best backup quarterback in America. He is not the athlete that Miller is, and nobody is expecting him to be, but he will be expected to continue to be the leader that he is. In other words, he will be expected to continue to be "Coach Guiton".
The expectations for Cardale Jones won't be as stringent. Jones will still be expected to compete for time, but before he can do that, he has to show that he is ready for meaningful snaps during practice.
Jones will play this year because he has to. They are no longer protecting a redshirt, and they will need to get him ready to be in the mix in 2014. He needs to show that he is ready for that responsibility.
J.T. Barrett has already enrolled, so he will participate as much as he can in spring practice. He tore his ACL last fall, so he is a likely redshirt candidate this season, but that doesn't mean he won't have expectations. He may be able to throw in the spring, but don't expect him to be doing any serious practicing. There will still be plenty that he needs to learn, however.
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario is that even though Braxton Miller will be untouchable, his ability to scramble and regroup will be evident. Also, a lack of breakdowns when fatigue sets in would be a welcome sight for the coaches.
For Guiton, the best case would simply be further advancement in his current role as leader. This would allow the confidence that his team has in him to grow, which is half the battle for a backup quarterback.
Last season against Purdue, Guiton threw an interception late in the game that appeared to end the Buckeyes' hopes. The fact that they came back from that will be something that every player on this team can continue to hold on to if they are forced to revisit a similar scenario in 2013.
Ideally, Cardale Jones would come into the spring and perform so well early that the coaches would have no choice but to give him more snaps. In fact, in a perfect Buckeye world, Jones would push Guiton for time.
Trending Up or Down
Right now, the only trending taking place at the quarterback position is going in the northerly direction. There is really no reason to believe that Miller, Guiton and Jones won't be better quarterbacks in April than they were last November.
There is simply too much on the line for Miller not to approach 2013 as the most important year of his football life. If he plays to his potential, the possibilities will be quite rewarding.
Right now there is no room for any of the other three quarterbacks to take it easy either. Like any other position on this team, if a player doesn't keep up, he will be passed by. So far, so good for the Ohio State quarterbacks, however.
It really is quite unfortunate that J.T. Barrett won't be able to full participate in spring practice. The battle that would have taken place between Barrett and Cardale Jones would have been fun to watch.
It would be pretty easy to believe that whomever wins the number three job this year opens as the backup next year. No doubt, that's how both Jones and Barrett would have viewed it. Instead, we'll have to wait until the summer, or next spring, for that first final battle.
Braxton Miller will be adorned in the untouchable black jersey this spring, and will focus quite a bit on simply throwing the ball and maintaining his fundamentals. This is a sound plan given that everybody already knows what he can do when running, though his scrambling can still improve greatly.
The spring will be a tremendous opportunity for Kenny Guiton to show again what type of player he is, culminating in a likely Spring Game battle against Miller. It should be both interesting and entertaining to watch it all unfold.
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