Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow have been through this before — just last year, in fact.
Last March, the quarterbacks went back and forth, battling each practice to become J.T. Barrett’s backup. Neither won. They both played well in the Spring Game and entered the summer tied in the race to be second in line for playing time.
But a broken hand near the end of fall camp submerged Burrow’s chances of becoming Barrett’s backup and handed Haskins the backup role.
Even when Burrow returned to action, he entered after Haskins late in blowout games. Then later in the year, Haskins took advantage of the opportunity and completed a comeback win in Ann Arbor, Michigan, against the Wolverines after being thrust into action in the second half after Barrett suffered an injury.
Despite this season’s quarterback battle having immeasurably higher stakes than last year’s, Haskins and Burrow seem to be stuck in the same place — a tie. But this time, they are tied atop the depth chart. And this year, a third quarterback — redshirt freshman Tate Martell — has engaged them in competition.
Head coach Urban Meyer said he is taking the quarterback competition “day-by-day.” He said Martell had a better practice Monday, Burrow had a better performance in an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday, then Haskins “came back” and played better.
Despite the offense not having a set leader at quarterback, Meyer seemed unconcerned with the ongoing uncertainty behind center.
“You’d wish one would take it,” Meyer said. “But then again, you like having the day-to-day competition, which is what I’m seeing.”
In order for someone to separate themselves and earn the starting job, Meyer said Haskins, Burrow or Martell have one simple job: to “lead the team.” Thus far, he feels that has not happened.
“There’s got to be a separation at some point, and right now there is not that separation,” Meyer said. “Just when one starts going, the other one comes up, and the other one drops a little bit.”
As each practice passes and no quarterback separates himself from the pack, the Buckeyes get one day nearer to ending spring practice without naming a starter. Ohio State has just five more practices in the next two weeks before playing the Spring Game on April 14 at Ohio Stadium.
If Meyer does not name a starter, it would be the first spring game since 2015 that Ohio State does not have a quarterback cemented atop the depth chart. Meyer said he does not know whether he will have a starter by the end of spring.
However, the timeline has major implications on the position for Ohio State. Both Haskins and Burrow have shown, in limited time, they possess the requisite skills to start at a major college football program. But Burrow could transfer if Haskins, the assumed favorite, earns the nod.
Burrow is on track to graduate from the university in May, meaning he would not have to sit out if he decided to transfer like most college athletes. Instead of backing up Haskins or Martell, he could transfer and compete for a starting job on a team without Ohio State’s high-end talent at quarterback.
A month ago, Meyer said his first obligation is Ohio State, but “probably, yes” he has an obligation to tell Burrow his status by the end of spring practice. Given the lack of separation between the three quarterbacks, the probability of Meyer not offering Burrow a solid answer by the time he graduates seems more possible than ever.
The last time Meyer did not make a decision on quarterback after spring practice, Ohio State’s disastrous circus of Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett flip-flopping starts and snaps led to an offense that could never seem to find a rhythm in 2015. Meyer said he has moved on from that situation and did not learn anything from it.
But the clock is ticking, and the day-to-day competition that Meyer enjoys will end after the Spring Game in less than two weeks. Without naming a starter, Ohio State will not have a leader behind center during the summer with whom the offense can build a rapport.
That might not worry Meyer yet, but the uncertainty could do irreparable damage if he does not make a decision until the fall.