Columbus, Ohio — Monday was the first day of the first game week for the 2014 Ohio State football team, but it was also the first day of the Buckeyes’ second week without Braxton Miller.
With Miller, the Buckeyes’ senior quarterback, set to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery Tuesday, Ohio State’s first opponent (Navy) came up from time to time during Urban Meyer’s first press luncheon of the year, but a large topic of conversation remained how his squad is going to look at the game’s most important position.
Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has been tabbed the new starter, though Meyer said the competition with sophomore Cardale Jones was close during camp. Jones was declared Miller’s backup coming out of spring ball, but offensive coordinator Tom Herman has said Barrett moved the offense better during the past month.
Barrett has been praised for his accuracy and efficiency, two traits that were apparent to the coaching staff when they recruited him from Wichita Falls, Texas, two years ago, but also his mental approach to the game.
"I remember we talked to some people that were (at the Elite 11 camp), and his competitive spirit is something, and you can see it now, it just kept coming back to us," Meyer said Monday afternoon.
As he has before, Meyer compared Barrett’s demeanor to that of Kenny Guiton, Miller’s backup the past two seasons and a favorite of the coaches and fans alike.
"He’s a cold guy who had a very good practice today, a really good practice today," Meyer said. "Very businesslike about his approach. He’s not someone you have to watch to see his demeanor because it’s the same as it was two weeks ago."
Wide receiver Evan Spencer was among the Buckeyes to express their confidence in the offense’s ability to overcome the loss of its best player — mostly because of how many playmakers Meyer has recruited over the past couple of winters.
"Personally what I’ve seen throughout camp and the other seniors can back me up, we’ll be way more than all right this year, that’s for sure," Spencer said. "We have so much depth this year, so many playmakers at so many positions from A to Z. It will be so cool to see everybody get out there making plays because we have the depth to be able to do it."
Spencer and fellow senior Devin Smith return after starting the bulk of the Buckeyes’ games last season, and Meyer named four more players expected to be in the rotation as the season begins — sophomores Dontre Wilson, Corey Smith and Michael Thomas along with redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall. Wilson and Marshall are likely pegged for playing time in the slot while the rest are bigger-bodied players more suited to the outside receiver positions. Wilson and Marshall could both be utilized as ball carriers, too, in Meyer’s spread-option offense.
"We’re gonna find ways to get people the ball whether it’s get them in space, design something to get people open downfield or what have you," Spencer said. "We’ve got athletes, from running backs to O-line to quarterback to receivers, so we’ll have a plethora of ways to kind of distribute the pill to everybody so it will be exciting to watch."
While replacing Miller’s unique blend of size, speed and agility at the quarterback position is nearly impossible, Spencer and others believe the roster has plenty of candidates to take up the slack while Barrett takes the role of distributor. Early returns are positive on the leadership ability of the youngster now in charge, too.
"You could kind of tell from the beginning of camp that he was trying to work on his maturity and his leadership as a young player, but after Braxton went down in practice I think he kind of realized quickly, ‘All right, well, time to take a leadership role.’ And Cardale, too," Spencer said. "In the huddle from then on when he was in practice he was keeping people going. If we were having a rough day, he was making sure we’d stay up and stay motivated, driving to get better. Because at the end of the day that’s what you have to do."
Awaiting the Buckeyes for their first game of the season is a Navy squad that some expect to be one of the best in a recent run of solid seasons, and Meyer acknowledged the Midshipmen’s triple-option offense could have as much of an effect on the Ohio State game plan as will the quarterback change.
"I’ve been working through that, talked to some people that have coached in these situations as a head coach," Meyer said. "I don’t believe I’ve been in this situation facing a team quite like this. I talked to about two or three of my colleagues who have been in this situation, and there are some things, game management areas where we’re going to adjust a little bit."