COLUMBUS, Ohio ― One round is down at Ohio State.
Only 14 to go ― or maybe more ― in the battle to take over the starting quarterback job for a national-title contender.
Urban Meyer opened up the first practice of spring to give a glimpse at the early stages of what is shaping up to be a fascinating competition to replace J.T. Barrett at the most important position on the field. And after it was over, the Ohio State coach fielded repeated questions from the media about how he’ll handle practice reps, when a decision will be made and what he’s looking for before he hands over the keys to the offense.
There was only so much that could be learned from one padless day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Meyer also did his best not to tip his hand much after the workout ended. But heading into his seventh season with the program, it’s at least a little easier to decipher his message in public.
So, let’s run his thoughts through the Land of 10 Meyer Translator and see where this could all be headed by April ― or maybe August.
“I think what you would expect is what I expected. I think we all know Dwayne [Haskins] kind of finished the season and finished it strong against the Team Up North.”
The last time Ohio State was in a situation like this, the run to a national championship led by Cardale Jones wound up being a trump card in his head-to-head showdown with Barrett. Given how ridiculously important the rivalry is to Meyer and the Buckeyes, it should come as no surprise that the comeback in The Game drew an early mention for Haskins.
So, count that as a point for the sophomore.
“Joe [Burrow] before his injury was neck and neck. So this is going to be trying to do the best we can to make sure that we have equal opportunity to compete. And I’m going to throw Tate Martell’s name in there as well. He’s earned the right to compete as well. So we’ll do the best job we can. You know, playing quarterback, that’s everyone’s dream, to be a starting quarterback at Ohio State. We’ll make sure we’re doing it right.”
Given the importance of the position, there’s no reason to rush to a decision. And Meyer quickly transitioned to the fact that he is confident in both of the other candidate, suggesting that any predictions that have Haskins as the foregone conclusion are premature at this point. When it comes to Burrow, that’s even more important, given his option to leave as a graduate transfer after spring ball.
Immediately mentioning Burrow and Martell? Mark notches down for both.
“Without getting too deep, we’ve had conversations with [Burrow and] his family. We try to be as transparent with you guys without getting too nose-deep into our meetings, but the answer is probably yes [he needs an indication this spring]. My first obligation is Ohio State. But not far below that is the player and the family. And so, yeah.”
The situation with Burrow is what makes this competition unique even for Meyer, who has been no stranger to entertaining quarterback derbies in his career. Ideally, Ohio State could let the passers all air it out this spring, get a feel for the pecking order and then pick it back up in training camp without any real downside. Sure, it can help to have an established starter leading workouts in the summer, but in terms of motivation, Meyer surely would rather have each of the candidates stay on edge and believe they could still win the job in August. Burrow could disrupt that plan, because there’s no guarantee he’ll stick around after the spring game.
That’s a lot of investment in Burrow, though, so maybe that’s another tally in his column.
“Sure, I’d love to have them both in the fall and let them keep battling it out. I’d like that. We’ve had that before, and I think it keeps people on pins and needles. It’s science; the performance is better. When you have some … discomfort of competition at times, that’s when you’re on point. If it’s you by yourself, sometimes you have a tendency to be complacent.”
No mystery here: Meyer’s preference would be to wait as long as possible before making a final call.
Ohio State doesn’t want one clear leader, but the signs suggest that desire for competition is meant to push Haskins.
“I think I’m more stressed about center. I think when you have quality players going at it there’s no stress at all. When you worry about who is going to be your center, that’s my focus [because] I think we’ll be fine at quarterback. Who is it going to be? I don’t know. But I know they work really hard and I see not two but three guys that think they should be the quarterback.”
No stress? Maybe for Meyer, who seems to enjoy the pressure-packed parts of his job more than just about anything else. It still sounds a little crazy that a coach wouldn’t be spending an endless string of sleepless nights worrying about picking a quarterback when there’s such major championship implications hinging on it. But the fact that he can be so calm about it is a significant part of the reason he’s been so good for so long in his career.
But another mention of the entire unit? Wipe the whole slate clean again.
“I just love the competition.”
Obviously, and it’s only just begun for the Buckeyes.
Now, ring the bell for Round Two.