Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman did not mince words when evaluating the play of his pupils in the first scrimmage of the spring. He did clean it up for the media, though.
"I said they played like a couple of words that can't be printed," Herman recalled of his message to Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. "And they got upset not with me but themselves for not demonstrating the kind of poise they had in the previous four practices. Everything about spring football is a learning experience and these guys are doing that with every rep they take."
Jones and Barrett are under the microscope this spring while reigning two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller recovers from shoulder surgery.
While that is giving Herman plenty of chances to glimpse the future of the position and choose a backup to replace super-sub Kenny Guiton, the coach admitted it is frustrating not being able to work with Miller on the field this spring.
Though Miller has been the Buckeyes' starter since early in his freshman season of 2011, he remains a work in progress as a passing quarterback. Blessed with dynamic running ability, Miller has still been among the nation's most productive players the past two seasons, but the general consensus is he will need to show a significant upgrade in his passing aptitude to lead the Buckeyes back to the Big Ten Championship Game and perhaps beyond this season. Ditto if he wants to be a high NFL draft pick next spring.
He remains heavily involved in practice despite his physical state, and that is allowing Herman and head coach Urban Meyer to work on the mental part of Miller's game.
"Braxton in my opinion has always been very football smart," Herman said. "You don't get to do the things that you do on the football field without understanding what's going on. I just think speaking the language like a coach was very very foreign to him so we're trying to develop that as much as possible."
The staff tracks what Miller is watching during every play with a camera strapped to his hat, and he has been instructed to describe what he is seeing as each play unfolds.
On top of that, Herman said he will have Miller grade the practice film of his understudies as if he were a coach.
"In my opinion, the best way to learn is to teach," Herman said. "I've learned more about football from teaching it to young people than probably any lectures or older people telling me. It's a process that's trial and error. It's an immersion into the game that he might not have done if he was out there exhausted from practice and wanting to go home and go to sleep. I think he's embraced what he can do, so he's turned a negative into a positive."
As for the quarterbacks who are healthy and able to practice, Herman said he has stressed to each the need to concentrate on what he does well.
"I tell those two guys a lot of the time, 'Just be you,'" Herman said. "I tell J.T., 'You get paid (a scholarship) to make good decisions, get the ball out of your hand and be accurate. You're not gonna grow. Your arm this year is not going to get a whole lot stronger, at least not this year. Be on time, be accurate and be right with what you do with the football.'"
"Cardale is 6-5 and 250 pounds and can throw it through that wall. 'Use some of that. Use the talents that you have while we develop the portions of your game that need to be developed.' Cardale has done a great job. He has done nothing to deserve less reps with the ones right now He's playing like a quarterback at Ohio State should."
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