Of the three experienced starting quarterbacks on Ohio State's roster only Cardale Jones enters spring practice fully healthy and was therefore the only signal-caller to fully participate in the first practice of the season Tuesday. During Urban Meyer's press conference, however, Braxton Miller took center stage.
Meyer seemed reticent at times to discuss Miller’s recovery from a season-ending shoulder injury during the 2014 campaign, but with that season behind him the national championship coach seemed bullish on his fifth-year senior’s recovery.
“I love Braxton Miller, I always have,” Meyer said when asked how gratifying it was to see Miller in uniform Tuesday. “He’s always done what I’ve asked of him, he’s a selfless guy that works really hard. So, is there part of me that is excited to see that guy warm up and run through his drills and see that great attitude and that big smile on his face? Absolutely.”
Miller, who reinjured his right shoulder just weeks before the start of the 2014 season and had surgery prior to the season-opener, was dressed for practice Tuesday and went through stretching and calisthenics alongside Jones and Stephen Collier before the start of regular practice work. He threw gingerly during the session of practice that was open to the media, never attempting to throw more than 10 or 15 yards and is not expected to be released of limitations until the summer.
Meyer said that Miller has made multiple trips down to Alabama to speak with Dr. James Andrews, the surgeon who performed the August shoulder operation, to ensure that the fifth-year senior’s rehabilitation is on track. The coach, however, is not prepared to comment on how the quarterback situation shakes out.
“Each player, each day is separate,” Meyer said. “So our day today was all about Braxton continuing on his journey to get healthy, which he has done an excellent job, he goes down to Birmingham, he’s been down there at least twice, maybe three times, to work with them and make sure that what we have going is on point, and our trainers and doctors have done a great job. It’s all Braxton. The longer I am in this profession, the doctors and trainers do it, but the kid knows. I ask every day, ‘How’s it going?’ And he’s a man enough to tell me how the rehab is going.
“We are going to worry about Braxton getting to Thursday and getting something out of practice. So its day-by-day and player-by-player. So that’s the focus, not what’s going to happen or what we foresee.”
Miller, a three-year starter before his injury, is a two-time winner of the Chicago Tribune Silber Football awarded to the Big Ten’s best player and could become the first-ever three-time winner of the award.
The Huber Heights native has run for 3,072 yards in his career, including two 1,000-yard seasons. There has been speculation that if Miller were to lose out on the quarterback job to one of his younger rivals or if his shoulder did not fully heal he could transition into a different position in the offense.
Meyer is not one of those speculating.
“All of our conversations are about the health of the athlete. I just want to see him get healthy. You sit there and start saying, how about safety or corner or H-back or receiver, no, we haven’t had that conversation.
“I think he could do whatever. He’s athletic enough to. I still think he is a quarterback.”
As far as the other players at the position, Barrett continues to rehab after breaking a bone in his right foot during the Michigan game on Nov. 29. The redshirt sophomore was without a walking boot or any sort of cast. He warmed up on a stationary bike during stretches, though he did deliberately progress through some footwork drills alongside Jones.
Prior to his injury, Barrett was writing his name all over the Big Ten and Ohio State record book. He amassed a conference record 45 touchdowns while finishing second nationally with a 169.82 passer rating.
“He’s doing a little bit more than I thought he could,” Meyer said of Barrett. “We want to keep pushing him and get him healthy.
“I want to see (No.) 5 get healthy and J.T. get healthy and Cardale continue to improve.”
While Barrett and Miller focus on getting healthy, Meyer wants Jones focused on getting reps. The strong-armed quarterback who led the Buckeyes to three postseason wins and flirted with declaring for the NFL draft despite just those three starts, is still the most inexperienced of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting role. Though his limited experience has come on the biggest stage.
Jones has just 94 pass attempts at Ohio State compared to 314 for Barrett in his 12 games of work and 666 for Miller in three years as a starter.
“He became a very functional player with repetition,” Meyer said of Jones. “He’s still raw. He’s still almost a rookie, an older rookie that hasn’t had a lot of reps. That’s what I want to see, him get a million reps this spring.”
Certainly, Jones will get the vast majority of reps this spring as Barrett and Miller work their way back from injury. Ohio State and Meyer have plenty of time to come to a decision as to who will be under center when the Buckeyes begin their national title defense against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7, 182 days to be exact.
Right now, Meyer isn’t stressing about his quarterbacks.
“For me there is no stress at all in terms of the functionality of the position, it’s the personalities, families, people involved,” the coach said. “If I disliked one or two of them it would be not that hard, but I have a lot of respect for those guys. Everybody around here has seen what they’ve done. That’s the only dilemma that I can see. It’s not right now because we’re not even focused on that.”