There have been nine Ohio State football practices this spring and in each of them there have been three quarterbacks sharing the reps equally.
On the one hand, this concerns Urban Meyer, who wants to see somebody seize the job. On the other, he likes to see the competition that comes from a three-man battle.
The race to replace J.T. Barrett is comprised of fourth-year junior Joe Burrow, who may be the best leader; redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins, who was the hero against Michigan; and redshirt freshman Tate Martell, who is the best runner of the group but has the least experience.
Martell knew when he signed with Ohio State that he would likely enter the 2018 season trailing Burrow and Haskins in experience, which is why all he has asked for this spring is a real opportunity to compete for the job.
He has gotten that so far.
“I feel good with where I’m at and what I’m doing and the progress that I’m making,” Martell said. “Obviously, I was hoping that after a guy left who was here like J.T., that there would be an open competition. Obviously, like I’ve said before, I didn’t come here to sit on the bench.”
There may not be many outside the program giving Martell a legitimate shot to win the job. Many view this as a competition between Haskins and Burrow, but if that were true, they would be receiving more of the repetitions in practice.
When offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day was asked recently if Martell was really in this race, he gave a very matter-of-fact — and common sense — answer.
“I understand the question, but really whoever’s playing best is going to play,” he said. “So anybody who’s playing at quarterback, if he’s the best quarterback, he’s going to play. So no, it’s not just a two-person race. Whoever’s out there moving the team down the field is going to play.
“So obviously the guys are competing and they’re working at that. So no, there’s nothing predetermined. There’s not a guy who’s been the starter like J.T.’s been here before. It’s a competition. Just like anywhere else that doesn’t have a quarterback who’s coming back, these guys have to earn everything they get.”
When you consider the skill sets of each quarterback, there are some significant differences. Haskins is the drop-back passer; Burrow is the closest thing to Barrett on the roster; and Martell is the most explosive runner of the group. While Day and the OSU offense can certainly work with Martell’s athletic abilities, it’s another aspect of his demeanor that Day really likes.
“Tate’s dynamic with his feet,” he said. “But he’s really competitive. If you’re picking out a game, whatever game that is, he’s gonna try to find a way to win and take you out. So that’s a huge deal for us, is guys that are competitors. He has that competitive fire in him. So he’s only a year in, but he’s making a lot of progress and he’s on the come.”
Everyone on the team has seen that fire on the field this spring, and the Ohio State defense experienced it first hand last season when Martell was on the scout team. Even though he wasn’t running the OSU offense on the scout team, he was working against the Buckeye defense each week. Those practices helped him get better and also gain a significant amount of confidence, which he is putting to good use this spring.
“I think that was huge for me,” Martell said. “Going against the best guys. Look at how many guys we have in the NFL, and that are going to be in the NFL, the guys that are going to be out here today that I went against every single day. I did a pretty good job, I felt like, at what I was doing out there, so it was successful for me.”
Even though he redshirted and never saw the field last season, he learned plenty. He learned from watching J.T. Barrett and the rest of the quarterbacks. Martell takes control of the huddle now. He leads the offense when he’s playing. There is no comparison from where he was last season to where he is this spring, and he’s only going to get better.
He knows what he needs to work on. That’s where his concentration is this spring, and it is showing up every practice in how well he is playing.
“Getting better,” Day said. “That’s really what you can focus on right now is getting better from where he was at this time last year. He’s light years away from there. So that’s huge for us. He brings a little different skill set to the table, which is really good.
“As a college coach, it’s our job — we don’t draft them, we recruit them. So it’s not so much of a system, as it is we want to find the right plays that fit the guys that we have. And so that’s part of our job this year as an offensive staff.”
Everyone knows that Martell is the best runner of the quarterbacks, but he also needs to be the best leader as well. He’s doing what he can to prove that he belongs, and he does his best proving when the ball is live.
“When it’s live, that’s when I’m at my best,” he said. “I can do so many different things. When it’s actually game time and not just 7-on-7, that’s when I’m at my best.”
The question now is whether or not his best will be good enough to win the job.