Everyone around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center wishes Braxton Miller would be going into the 2014 season at full health, but there’s a silver lining to every cloud – just ask redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett.
The Wichita Falls, Texas, native couldn’t practice while he rehabbed from a torn ACL last fall, but the increased reps that he’s earned with Miller unable to go has had a huge affect on him -- and could lead Barrett to being the starting quarterback this fall pending the severity of Miller's injury.
How much so? Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said after Saturday’s scrimmage that Barrett has moved slightly ahead of sophomore Cardale Jones, something confirmed by offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman after Monday's practice.
"The offense moves better when he's in there," Herman said of Barrett. "You can throw all the completion percentages (out there) – he's probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads and more of the right reads in the run game.
"But at the end of the day, the offense moves when he's in and sometimes it doesn't as much, 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."
And Barrett admits that wouldn't be the case had he not had the chance to get reps this year thanks to Miller's injury.
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at right now if Braxton was healthy, full-go,” Barrett said at Aug. 10 media day. “I think in the spring I still would have got a lot of reps, but as far as right now, these reps in camp, we’re preparing for the season. With Braxton still working back in with his shoulder, these reps are very valuable to me and my development as well.”
Rated the No. 13 quarterback in the country by Scout coming out of Wichita Falls Rider High School, Barrett was one of the top quarterback recruits in his class even with the torn ACL he suffered midway through his senior campaign. A dual-threat QB, Barrett ran and threw for more than 1,500 yards in his junior season while developing a reputation as both a leader and a keen distributor of the ball.
Those talents have continued to serve him well at Ohio State, where he has earned praise for what he brings on and off the field.
“He gets the ball out very quickly,” Herman said. “Very efficient, smooth release, very accurate, extremely cerebral. He’s a very magnetic leader. I think the kids gravitate toward him.”
One area in which Barrett isn’t the equal of the quarterbacks around him is arm strength, but that is less a concern to Herman, who saw Kenny Guiton throw for 14 TDs and just two interceptions in 109 attempts last year while focusing on accuracy and ball distribution.
“He’s a distant third behind Braxton and Cardale in terms of just raring back and trying to throw it through a wall, but he makes up for that in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that,” Herman said. “You don’t have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football, so I’m very pleased with his continuing growth.”
For his part, the 6-1, 225-pound Barrett said he’s made big strides since arriving at Ohio State when it comes to the passing department. Some of that came from an offseason visit to see Tom House, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who has worked with quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Tom Brady and former Meyer QB Alex Smith.
“I feel like this is probably the best that I’ve thrown since I’ve been here,” Barrett said. “I did a lot of improvements since spring ball as far as throwing motion. Just going out to see Tom House in California, I saw him as far as tightening my arm, getting out there to the flats and things like that. I feel like I definitely made strides throwing the football.”
That extra work has helped considering Barrett was unable to see the field last year and could instead grow only in the meeting room, where he said he spent the campaign learning protections and the playbook.
Now that he’s ready to go both mentally and physically, he said he feels like a different quarterback.
“I probably would say just with confidence because you come to play at a place like Ohio State, all of us being recruited, we were probably the man in high school, but you come here, its’ a whole different world because everybody is just like you or better than you,” he said. “When I first got here, I really didn’t have any confidence at all. Now I’m just being confident in my game and going out there and just playing, not thinking all the time and just reacting.”
Now, Barrett has caught the eye of the head honcho – and could be leaned on to be the man this fall.
“Just functionality, completing passes, understanding everything,” Meyer said of where Barrett has improved. “Growing up a little bit – he was always kind of a quiet guy, and he’s starting to act like a quarterback.”