INDIANAPOLIS — For four years, J.T. Barrett was the man. The Ohio State football team followed the quarterback everywhere he went and the city hung on his every word.
Now as he prepares to take a shot in the NFL, everything has flipped.
A crop of 15 to 20 reporters circled around the podium on which Barrett spoke, but the attention paled in comparison to the media circus three podiums away encapsulating former USC quarterback Sam Darnold, the player who led the team which Barrett beat in his final collegiate game.
When asked whether if it felt weird to not be the center of attention, he took a long look over his right shoulder at the throng of journalists surrounding Darnold, then simply said, “Nah, I’m good.”
He no longer must worry about the spotlight he could never seem to avoid at Ohio State.
Despite setting the all-time Big Ten records for total offensive yards (12,697) and touchdown passes (104), holding 34 school records and becoming the first three-time team captain in program history, Barrett might not have a spot in the NFL. Teams have plenty of questions about his arm strength, pocket presence and ability to play in a professional offensive system.
But Barrett said he does not pay much attention to draft experts or their projections. Instead, he is focused on finding a team willing to prove its belief in the quarterback by selecting him in the NFL draft.
“I feel like if you’re going in the first round or you’re going in the seventh round, I think at the end of the day, that’s what you want,” Barrett said Friday at the NFL combine. “So you need one opportunity to showcase who you are as a football player and as a person. Like I said, I just need one opportunity, one team to believe in me and go show them who I am.”
Given Barrett’s experience as a four-year starter, there should not be many questions about his strengths and weaknesses. Scouts and general managers can watch 44 starts and an Ohio State-record 38 wins.
In those victories, Barrett often found success behind center when utilizing his vision and power in the run game, and he hopes to translate that pocket mobility to the NFL.
“Strengths are being able to extend the plays, have the ability to run the ball, not just standing in the pocket like a light post,” Barrett said. “I’m going to move around, be able to make throws on the run. Elevate the game of the people around me.”
Some have questioned whether he will switch positions at the professional level. Barrett said no team has asked him to play another position, saying “it’s all been about quarterback.”
Instead, he has been working at quarterback in Orlando, Florida, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to prepare for the combine and the draft. Barrett has worked heavily to increase his footwork and timing.
“When you look at great you look at great throws, you first starting off with footwork,” he said. “You talk about somebody’s arm, but at first, you have to have your feet in place to make those throws, so I’m working on that constantly.”
Barrett will be the latest in a long line of former Ohio State quarterbacks — including recent Buckeye signal-callers Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller and Troy Smith — to head to the NFL. He said he talks to Jones every couple days and saw Miller once in Columbus. Barrett said the NFL veterans told him to be himself and to enjoy the process rather than let it stress him out. That becomes key if Barrett slides further than he anticipates.
Less stress comes with being a low-round pick. But with that comes a greater doubt.
This year, though, Barrett dealt with hordes of skeptics who favored Dwayne Haskins replacing him. He has faced these questions many times before. They don’t bother him.
“How much faith do I have in myself? Uh, I have have some confidence,” Barrett said with a smile. “I think, I don’t know, I’m not the type to voice it. I want to showcase it on the field. So with that, that’s what I plan to do. I think I did a good job preparing and trying to be ready for this moment. I have confidence in myself.”
Barrett’s physical tools might never match those of the quarterback who he peeked at over his right shoulder, but that confidence and his leadership have a chance to place him on an NFL 53-man roster.