The Buckeyes have another fifth-year senior with starting experience – Justin Zwick – serving as Smith's backup.
But don't expect OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels to apologize for his embarrassment of riches. He's helped create the monster, and now he gets to reap the benefits.
Daniels met with reporters following the Buckeyes' practice on Monday and he is very pleased about the progress of all four scholarship signal callers.
"I think at this point, the way I'd probably break it down is the two older quarterbacks, guys that have been here, both seniors, having good springs," Daniels said. "What we're doing with those guys – it's always a learning (process), we're always learning – but with them I think it's a little more refining. Even to the point of some technique getting a little better. We're looking at some new things, which you do every spring. So, that keeps their interest. I'm very, very happy with their progress.
"Now the two young kids, you're dealing with guys that for the most part really haven't taken a snap. Todd has taken a couple snaps, but for the most part we're taking the approach that they are brand new. And they are progressing really well. Their goal this spring, obviously, is to learn. Learn as much of the offense as they can and just get a feel for things. So, I'm really happy with their progress. So, overall, not to sound like a broken record, but as far as the quarterback position I am really happy so far this spring. We have a few more days and the spring game and if we just finish that out, then you look at the 29 days coming this fall (in preseason camp). To be honest with you, we talk about 29 days and that's a lot of days of practice. But in reality, it's not quite that much because somewhere along the line there you get to the point where we're really working on the opener and things really start to fall in order."
Last year at this time, there was still uncertainty surrounding OSU's quarterback situation. Yes, Troy Smith was coming off a tremendous performance in the 2004 Michigan game, but his two-game suspension, which carried over to the 2005 opener, left the door cracked for Zwick.
But this spring, there is no quarterback controversy. And Daniels says it's nice to have it that way.
"I think so. I think it is," he said. "It's more of a let's get busy doing what we do and learning what we're going to learn, as opposed to the pressure of who's going to be the starter. And I've approached the whole thing with them even to the point of who's the backup. Let's not worry about that right now. Let's worry about where we are as far as the two older guys, and the two younger guys. And it really has made it a lot more enjoyable. There's self-imposed pressure that they've put on themselves, but for the most part there hasn't been any pressure and it's been a real good learning situation."
While the starting job is not up for grabs, there is an intriguing battle for the third-string role. Usually, it might be considered an afterthought, but either Boeckman or Schoenhoft could start the 2007 opener. (Incoming freshman Antonio Henton will also be in the mix.) Daniels is not in a hurry to name his No. 3 quarterback. There were some rumblings that Schoenhoft passed Boeckman as early as last December, but Daniels is not ready to declare one ahead of the other.
"I don't know that there's a deadline on it," he said. "Obviously sometime. That's why I say the 29 days of fall camp will sort of solidify it and settle it in. I don't know that we have to have a… coming out of spring I guess Snapper (SID Steve Snapp) will want to know something. But the answer to that is hyphen, or slash."
And while Boeckman and Schoenhoft are as green as the grass in Ohio Stadium, it's a good situation for Daniels. He enjoys teaching them and bringing them along.
"You know what, it is. It really is," Daniels said. "They're not so young that they don't know what's going on. They know the formations and obviously a lot more than that. What's nice about it is when we go over things and explain things… and even the two older guys explain things to the two younger guys. They'll sit over there and they'll talk it out. ‘Here's what happened' and so on, and that's a plus. It really is a tremendous advantage and I would like it work it like that all the time."
The 6-6, 235-pound Schoenhoft has a cannon and moves surprisingly well for a big man. And there are a few other parts of his game that Daniels likes.
"He's sharp. Sharp as a tack," Daniels said. "He really is an intelligent young man and he's picked up our offense extremely well. You've already mentioned the big arm. The other thing is he's a fierce competitor. He's a great competitor. I think there's two qualities in a quarterback – other than he can throw – I think a quarterback has to be tough, and a quarterback has to be a great competitor. I've never been around one that's been good or great that hasn't had those qualities."
Daniels was pressed for an answer on the young quarterbacks. Have the Buckeyes used this spring in part to groom Smith's eventual replacement? But the veteran coach wasn't biting.
"Well, most of the things that we've done here are let's get ready for 2006 and that's the most important thing," Daniels said. "Yeah, 2007 is coming, just like 2112 is coming. But we'll worry about that down the road a little bit. First and foremost, we've got to be as good as we can be in 2006. That's why we'll have spring practice in 2007."
The fiery Smith has always been a leader. But now firmly entrenched as the starter, he's accepted the role even more.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah. Very much so," Daniels said. "You can see the way he handles himself, I mean even in meetings. It's a tremendous difference. He is, thank goodness, is constantly on a learning curve. That's what he wants. He's hungry to learn and he's hungry to learn as much as he possibly can. So, that aspect of it is really good. But he's got a comfort level that he's the guy, and let's go. Let's tee it up. But I've really been impressed with his approach this spring."
Daniels was asked if Smith wasn't so hungry to learn in his younger years.
"No, he's always been that way," he said. "He's always wanted to be a guy that wanted to know. But I think the difference now is because of his playing experience and the scope of it, I think his questions are a little more intelligent. That's not a good way of saying it. There's something more behind it. There's always a reason why he wants to look at the next step. So, that part has been very enjoyable."
Smith was a little rusty to begin the 2005 season, but after he settled in he got rolling and established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. Just ask Michigan and Notre Dame.
But how can Smith improve this spring? What does Daniels want to see him do even better?
"Just the learning process," he said. "What I think we saw from Troy last year was we saw Troy go from a guy that had great ability to scramble and run and step up in the pocket and take off with great athletic ability, to a guy that used that athletic ability to buy time to find an open receiver. It was a giant step. And I think that's the learning curve that he went through and is still going through.
"We really challenge Troy a little bit. In the scrimmages, we put a black shirt on him and he's not live. And that's like taking part of his game away. But it also forces him to do some things, and really that's what he wants to do. That's the change, that's the biggest change that happened with Troy as the season progressed. He's got great ability to throw the football. I mean, he can throw it as well as anybody. But now, combine that with that great athletic ability, and he'll buy time and scramble around a little bit – but not to run – to find the open guy."
Daniels likes that Smith is carrying himself with a veteran swagger. Smith has been through some rocky times at OSU, but he's already made a lasting impression on the program and has the opportunity to do even more this year.
"I think he's a lot more mature," Daniels said. "The difference is because he went through some of those things and some of them were not even intentional, if that's the word. But I think the biggest difference now is he's more likely to think things out a little bit. Even the small little minor things. Off the field is what I'm talking about. So, that's a maturity thing more than anything else."
As for Zwick, the former high school prodigy is not pouting in his backup role. Everyone knows he could have transferred to a I-AA school (or D-II) and been guaranteed to start his final year in college. But he stuck around and wanted to be Buckeye. Daniels can't say enough about Zwick's attitude this spring.
"Great. (Head coach Jim Tressel) and I talked about that and it's been great," Daniels said. "He's worked hard. He's really worked hard on technique, and that's a constant battle with all quarterbacks. And thank goodness he's been extremely positive and has worked hard. I've got no complaints about that aspect of it at all. I'm fortunate on that end."
Spring ball is wrapping up this week, but Daniels feels that there is still much to be accomplished.
"Well, believe it or not, we're still going to look at some things," he said. "We've got four days and… let's be honest. The spring game is sort of tie a box around things and really condense it. A really small box. So, we're not going to do a whole lot in the spring game. That's a little bit of fun. That's a let's tee it up and see what happens kind of thing. It's a little bit less pressure. But the few days in between, we still want to work on some things and try some new things."