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Football: Quarterback battle officially begins with start of spring practice

Quarterbacks Tate Martell and Dwayne Haskins watch the 2017 Cotton Bowl from the sideline on Dec. 29. in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

J.T. Barrett watched as Ohio State officially began spring practice.

For each of the past five seasons, he has been a part of it all, suited up in pads with the practice jersey. Tuesday, however, he could only stand in the sideline and watch a trio of quarterbacks — those who waited behind him for reps last season — compete to take his old spot on the team.

It will be a difficult battle to find out who replaces one of the most decorated quarterbacks in program history, but head coach Urban Meyer said he is not stressing over the uncertainty. When there is as much talent competing for the spot, he believes things will work out just fine for his team.

“I think I’m more stressed about center. I think when you have quality players going at it, there’s no stress at all,” Meyer said Tuesday. “I think we’ll be fine at quarterback. Who’s it going to be? I don’t know. But I know they work really hard and I see not two, but three guys that think they should be the quarterback. So I spend more time at the positions that I don’t know.”

The clear favorite heading into spring practice was redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound pocket-passer won the backup quarterback spot in 2017 after redshirt junior Joe Burrow broke his hand. For the most part, Haskins filled in the typical role of a backup, mostly appearing during garbage time in blowouts.

However, during the team’s rivalry game against Michigan in a matchup that determined the winner of the Big Ten East, Haskins was called upon to take over under center after Barrett left with a knee injury with the Buckeyes trailing, 20-14.

Haskins drove the team down the field for the eventual game-winning score and was quarterback for 17 of Ohio State’s 31 points in the win. He finished the game 6-for-7 with 94 passing yards.

In delivering the win, many thought Haskins separated himself from the rest of the contenders for the quarterback position. Meyer hinted that while Burrow and Haskins were close at the beginning of the season, Haskins might have moved ahead.

“I think we all know that Dwayne kind of finished the season and finished it strong against the team up north,” Meyer said. “Joe before his injury was neck-and-neck, so this is going to be — we’re trying to do the best we can to make sure they have equal opportunity to compete.”

Burrow still has a shot to win the competition, as does redshirt freshman Tate Martell. But Burrow is in a position that neither of the other quarterbacks are in: He has a viable backup plan.

If Martell or Haskins lose the battle and transfer, believing they are good enough to start elsewhere, they will be forced to sit out a full season. Burrow, on the other hand, graduates in May and could transfer to another school and play immediately without the penalty.

Meyer said he has talked with Burrow and his family about the chance of a departure, and said that he probably does owe Burrow an answer on the position battle before it’s too late for him to transfer. Even so, he added he doesn’t want to rush his decision along.

In a perfect world, Meyer said the team knows by the start of the summer how that position group shapes up. But he does not typically have those perfect scenarios fall his way.

“I’ve had it several times where you’re nip and tuck with two guys going after each other for the next five [months] or going after the backup spot,” Meyer said.

The decision of who will succeed Barrett at quarterback will likely remain unanswered for some time. It would be a surprise if anything was announced before the Spring Game on April 14. The three players will head into the scrimmage with the chance to make another pitch for the gig.

Until a decision is made, Meyer will just continue to encourage the competition, knowing that the talented trio will come up with a solution in due time.

“We’ve had that before here, and I just think it keeps people on pins and needles. Performance, it’s science that performance is better when you have someone beyond comfort — discomfort of competition of times,” Meyer said. “If you’re just by yourself, you have a tendency to be complacent. That’s something that you’re going to watch very closely.”

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