Much like this offseason, last year, the Ohio State football team had a heated battle for the quarterback depth chart on its hands.
Only then, the race was on for the No. 2 slot.
Now, the two contenders for last year’s backup spot — redshirt-sophomore J.T. Barrett and redshirt-junior Cardale Jones — are entrenched in a race for the starting job with the incumbent heading into the 2014 campaign, redshirt-senior Braxton Miller.
Jones said it’s easy for people to forget that the quarterbacks are constantly in competition, even if the starter is firmly in place.
“It’s always been a competition to us,” Jones said Thursday. “Ever since I stepped on campus when (former OSU quarterback) Kenny (Guiton) was here, it’s always been a competition.”
Barrett agreed with his teammate that the situation isn’t new for the Buckeyes.
“Last year at this time, Braxton was coming off his surgery, me and Cardale was competing for the No. 2 spot,” Barrett said. “So it’s still the same, we still critique each other, run around and give each other advice. Braxton and Cardale help me, and I try to do my best to help them.
“There’s no bad blood out here. We’re all still friends and trying to help each other.”
Jones said while he and his teammates are aware of the ongoing competition, his main focus isn’t on next season, but rather just working to improve.
“I don’t know (how the competition will play out). That’s up to the coaches. I’m just going through the spring, trying to get better,” Jones said.
The Glenville High School product added that he doesn’t think that any decisions will be made for the foreseeable future, which helps alleviate some of the pressure.
“I don’t think anything will be decided in the preseason. That’s not up to me, but I don’t think I have an advantage over the guys, because they’re still doing things to get better. Quarterbacks always get better,” he said.
The résumés of the three quarterbacks could only make the situation murkier for coach Urban Meyer and new co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck.
Miller is a two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, and Barrett is the reigning holder of that title. Jones made three starts last season, throwing for 742 yards as a starter — which just so happened to come in emphatic victories in the Big Ten Championship Game, Allstate Sugar Bowl and College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
However, Jones said he thinks, in the eyes of both the candidates and the coaching staff, that the past is the past and should not play into the decision of who the best man for the job is in 2015.
“That really don’t mean anything now,” Jones said. “That meant a lot to us, going through that run we had, but I don’t think last year’s going to affect the competition for this year.
“If we would’ve won or lost the national championship or Big Ten championship, I still would’ve come into spring the same.”
Barrett said the on-field abilities of the trio are not in question. What the battle could come down to, he said, are some of the other qualities that a coach needs out of his quarterback.
“For me to be that guy, I think just being able to lead the guys around me,” Barrett said. “I think all three of us definitely have the ability to definitely go out there and play good, but being able to go out there and lead the people who may not have the same ability and give them confidence will be big.”
One advantage over the competition that Jones might hold is the ability to work with the team as spring practice begins. Barrett is still recovering from a fractured right ankle suffered Nov. 29 against Michigan, while Miller’s road to recovery from August shoulder surgery is still ongoing.
Barrett said he is on track in his recovery, but there is no timetable for the Wichita Falls, Texas, native to see the field. He said he is more concerned with entering the competition healthy than returning quickly.
“I’m on schedule, but there’s not really a set date where I’ll be ready to pass and run, things like that. It’s really just how I feel,” Barrett said.
An update on Miller’s return to the field was not available Thursday, as the redshirt-senior opted not to speak with the media after practice.
One thing Barrett doesn’t expect to see in 2015 is a two- or three-quarterback system. He said that he believes one player will be the starter, and the other two will simply be waiting in the wings.
But if Barrett is not named the first-stringer, he doesn’t anticipate a loss in motivation.
“If I’m not the starter, then obviously I’m not doing something right. I can always get better,” Barrett said. “So I would keep trying to get better.
“Somebody’s going to be the best quarterback for Ohio State, so whoever that is, I think that’s going to be a great situation for our team, and we just let the other two guys know that they need to get better and have things to work on.”
OSU will have until Sept. 7 to select the starter, when it is scheduled to open the season against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.