COLUMBUS, Ohio — The contrast between Joe Burrow’s sentiments following his first and second spring games showed a quiet shift in the approach of the Ohio State quarterback.
Following the Buckeyes’ 2016 exhibition, Burrow was somewhere between giddy and gleeful, clearly proud of how he performed in his first real playing time in an Ohio State uniform.
“I know I can play here now,” said Burrow, seemingly attempting to convince himself more than anyone else.
But after the Ohio State 2017 spring game in April, the redshirt sophomore’s tone struck a different chord. Burrow no was longer just satisfied. He was also annoyed.
Not with his performance; no, that he was once again plenty proud of. Helping lead the Scarlet squad to a 38-31 victory, Burrow completed 14 of his 22 pass attempts for 252 yards and 3 touchdowns, routinely connecting downfield with his targets.
Rather, what seemed to bother Burrow after his second straight strong spring game showing was the perception of his place in the pecking order of signal-callers for the Buckeyes.
“I’m just focused on getting better every day,” Burrow responded when asked about the Buckeyes’ depth chart. “I wouldn’t say I’m uncomfortable with it. I’m just focused on doing what I can do and controlling what I can control.”
What the Plains, Ohio, native, can’t control, however, is the growing sentiment that Dwayne Haskins is the future at quarterback for the Buckeyes. Ever since Haskins emerged as a breakout player in bowl preparation, many have penciled him — and not Burrow — in as the long-term successor to J.T. Barrett.
Asked about the ongoing battle between himself, Haskins and freshman Tate Martell to become Barrett’s backup, Burrow stuck to the script.
“I would say we’re all competing with each other,” the former 4-star prospect said. “That’s what I’m focused on. Getting better by myself, getting great relationships with the quarterbacks and getting better every day.”
But while Burrow downplays it, the reality is that long-term consequences to the Buckeyes’ ongoing quarterback competition exist. Although Barrett is Ohio State’s undisputed starter, his top understudy spot is up for grabs, and the winner could take the pole position in the race to replace the two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year.
Perhaps that’s why Burrow was as testy as he seemed, well aware of what’s at stake for his future in the coming months. It probably doesn’t help that moments earlier, coach Urban Meyer declined to declare a clear pecking order, even though Burrow is the only of the backups to have taken a snap in an actual game.
“I know it is very close,” Meyer said. “But I’m not prepared to say who is two, who is three, et cetera, yet.”
Meyer hasn’t handed Haskins the position, despite the perception he is the heir apparent. Although Haskins has the stronger arm — and perhaps, higher upside — Burrow has shown all the tools necessary to run Meyer’s spread offense.
In addition to his accuracy, Burrow has proved plenty mobile, totaling 2,067 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns at Athens High School. Of course, there’s a huge jump from Ohio Division III high school ball to the Big Ten. But outside of Barrett, Burrow could possess the best dual-threat ability on the Ohio State roster.
“You have to do that,” Meyer said of Burrow’s ability to run the ball.
Burrow also has experience on his side, having spent the 2016 season as Barrett’s primary backup. Although his playing time was limited to mop-up duty, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback showed plenty of promise, completing 22 of his 28 attempts for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns, adding another 58 yards and an additional score on the ground.
All indications are that the redshirt sophomore carried that momentum into the spring as well.
“Very, very impressed,” new Ohio State quarterbacks coach Ryan Day said of Burrow. “Really talented, really smart in the classroom. Can run and can pass. Been very impressed with him.”
With Haskins yet to play a real snap and Martell still getting acclimated to the college level, Burrow is the best bet to be the Buckeyes’ backup to Barrett when the 2017 season starts.
Whether he maintains that status through the year is the question. But at the very least, that might explain why he seemed so annoyed following Ohio State’s spring game.
At this point last year, he knew he could play. Now, despite the hype surrounding Haskins, Burrow now knows even more.
And he has the confidence to show for it.
“Last year, I knew I could play here,” he said. “Now I know I can play at a high level here.”