At his press conference on Saturday, Urban Meyer raved about a "J.T. Barnett" who was impressing him in Ohio State's quarterbacks room. It only takes one quick scan to realize that no such player exists on the Buckeyes roster—although it's not too hard to figure out who Meyer was making reference to.
Meet J.T. Barrett, coach.
He's the new starting quarterback at The Ohio State University.
The plan was always for Barrett to hold that title one day—just not necessarily so soon. But with the news that Braxton Miller's re-injured shoulder will cost him the entire 2014 season, Barrett suddenly finds himself atop the Buckeyes' quarterback depth chart—until Miller returns for the 2015 season.
Where He Came From:
At 6'1" and 225 pounds, Barrett arrived at Ohio State in January 2013 as a 4-star prospect byway of Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. Despite enrolling early, Barrett never saw significant snaps—not in practice and certainly not on the playing field—as he recovered from a torn ACL suffered during the senior season of his high school career.
Yep, the same Barrett who is expected to take the field in Baltimore for Ohio State's opener with Navy on Aug. 30 is the same player who hasn't taken an actual game rep since Oct. 5, 2012. That's obviously a scary proposition for any Buckeye fan to take into consideration, as a team that was just ranked fifth in the nation could now be lucky to finish fifth in the Big Ten.
But while Barrett's inexperience is certainly cause for concern, there's also a lot to like about Ohio State's new starting quarterback. What that means for the Buckeyes' 2014 prospects remains to be seen, but here's what you need to know about the new QB-1 in Columbus.
Despite having only been on a college campus for little more than a full season, Barrett has already shown resiliency, and not just in how he has recovered from his injury.
Entering his second fall camp in Columbus as Ohio State's third-string quarterback, Barrett was essentially an afterthought—especially on an offense that was centered around a Heisman hopeful ahead of him. But as Miller's recovery from a previous shoulder injury went slower than expected, more reps at quarterback were to be had, with Barrett using enough of them to leapfrog third-year sophomore Cardale Jones as the Buckeyes' second-string signal-caller.
"J.T. Barrett's moved slightly ahead of Cardale in the quarterback derby," Meyer stated on Saturday. "That's because of his opportunities."
Expanding on Barrett's recent promotion on Monday, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman had high praise for the now-former understudy.
"The offense moves better when he's in there," Herman said of Barrett. "Not that Cardale is doing a bad job, but the offense moves more frequently when J.T. is the quarterback, and that's the sign of a good one."
Despite being just a second-year player with no playing experience at the college level, Barrett has also already been lauded for his leadership within the Ohio State locker room. And while he may not be a physical freak capable of stringing together single-game highlight reels like Miller, he prides himself on his intangibles and ability to spread the ball around.
"I'm a grinder. I really hate to lose. I probably hate to lose more than I like to win, honestly. A competitor, a really tough guy," Barrett said. "I'm pass-first, throwing the football and distributing it to the receivers. I'm able to run. It could be a quarterback design run or just be a scramble."
In a best-case scenario for the Buckeyes, Barrett would overcome his inexperience by distributing the ball to a plethora of potential playmakers like Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, Michael Thomas, Johnnie Dixon and Curtis Samuel. He may not be the one-man show that Miller often has been throughout his college career, but Barrett could help open Ohio State's options offensively and make it less one-dimensional than it's been at times with Miller at the helm.
Barrett's inexperience aside—which there's no denying—he also possesses physical limitations as both a passer and a runner. Comparing the arm strength of his top three quarterbacks, Herman placed Barrett at a "distant third," behind both Miller and Jones.
"We're going to work on strengthening his arm," Herman promised.
That's fine and well, but also a process that would likely take an entire offseason, and the Buckeyes don't even have an entire two weeks until the start of the season. Even when he was a true freshman, Miller's big arm managed to make big plays for Ohio State, which is a luxury it likely wouldn't get to enjoy with Barrett at the helm.
Asked how he'd feel about putting Barrett—or Jones—into an actual game right now, Herman expressed confidence, but also trepidation.
"I wouldn't say it's where it was the previous two years, but close," Herman said of his confidence in OSU's backup quarterbacks. "By no stretch of the imagination are we where we were at that position with Kenny Guiton, arguably the best backup quarterback in college football the last two years."
And while Barrett has time to develop into the safety valve that Guiton was, it's hard to imagine him doing so in time for the Buckeyes' second game of the season—a Sept. 6 home date with Virginia Tech. The Hokies may be unranked, but they'll be as talented as any team that Ohio State faces this season—especially on the defensive side of the ball—and will undoubtedly be a tall task in what will likely be the second start of Barrett's college career.
Even if the Buckeyes manage through their nonconference slate and the better part of a lighter Big Ten schedule than most teams, all signs point to Ohio State's Nov. 8 matchup at East Lansing, Michigan, being the Big Ten East's de facto championship game. Would Barrett be ready to take on the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions on the road and at night by then? It's too early to tell. But at this point in time, it's certainly a tough sell.
Can Barrett's intangibles overcome his physical shortcomings? That's the biggest question in Columbus right now.
With Kenny Guiton, the answer was yes, as evidenced by the four victories that the former Buckeyes backup was essentially responsible for in Ohio State's past two seasons. But playing in spot duty and playing for an entire season are two different animals to attack, and Guiton was never faced with the task of the latter.
Now Barrett could be, and while his ceiling is undeniably higher than Guiton's, it's also lower than Miller's—perhaps significantly. Expect the Ohio State offense to change significantly—fewer designed runs from the quarterback, more quick screen passes and perhaps a heavy dose of the Buckeye running backs—as Meyer and Herman no longer have the ace in the hole that they possessed with Miller, especially as a runner.
Is Braxton Miller really Ohio State's equivalent to LeBron James, as tight end Jeff Heuerman alluded to a month ago? We're about to find out. And that could be up to Barrett to decide.
But as uncertainties in Columbus mount, one thing is for sure: Barrett's head coach should no longer have an issue remembering his name.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.
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