No one would blame Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett if he feels abandoned.
Nine underclassmen teammates left after last season for the NFL Draft. Eight were chosen as the Buckeyes had 12 selected, all in the first four rounds.
Gone is Barrett’s friend and fellow quarterback Cardale Jones.
Gone is backfield mate Ezekiel Elliott, the second-leading rusher in school history.
Gone are OSU’s top four receiving leaders from 2015 — Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Elliott and Braxton Miller — along with starting tight end Nick Vannett.
Gone are three starters on the offensive line, including left tackle Taylor Decker.
Gone is the man whom he believes will be “his guy” for the rest of his life, the coach who recruited him. Former offensive coordinator Tom Herman is starting his second season in charge at 15th-ranked Houston.
After the final media interviews before Ohio State defeated Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Jones, safety Tyvis Powell and others gathered and chanted in the hotel ballroom. It seemed like a celebratory convergence of those who knew they were about to play their final game together.
Barrett was not in their midst.
But even though the sixth-ranked Buckeyes will have only seven starters returning when they open the season Saturday at home against Bowling Green, Barrett need not pine for old friends. The 6-foot-2, 222-pound junior has much to prove.
At this point, I don’t believe he has the arm strength to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
He might have to follow in the footsteps of former OSU signal-callers Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller and switch positions in the pros. Those two are converting to receiver; Barrett would be more suited to running back, especially in short yardage and goal line situations. That might be an option for a team willing to keep him as their second-string QB.
That suggestion might sound incongruous since Barrett is a Heisman Trophy candidate. He is among the most accurate passers in Ohio State history. His 64.6 completion percentage during the 2014 national championship season was second best all-time, his 63.3 percent last season was fifth. He has 45 career touchdown passes and should surpass Bobby Hoying’s school record of 57. Barrett’s career 166.3 passing yards per game ranks third at OSU.
I also love Barrett’s leadership abilities. He’s 15-2 as a starter and does not hesitate to urge on a teammate whose energy is lagging. He said that happened recently with redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber, the likely starter.
“If the workout is really hard and I see they’re at a point where they’re going to give up, I say, ‘Oh, you’re going to give up on us?’ It’s trying to make it more about the team instead of him hurting,” Barrett said.
Barrett has the clout to do that. When Jones started the final three games of the 2014 national title run, Barrett made team speeches while negotiating the locker room on a rolling cart to support his broken ankle.
Barrett is the perfect quarterback for OSU coach Urban Meyer’s offense; I still wonder why it took Meyer so long last season to realize that. But when it comes to Barrett’s future, I wonder if he can be more than Tim Tebow, if he can ever succeed with his arm and not his legs.
Neither ESPN draft analyst, Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay, had Barrett in his way-too-early first-round mock in May. They admittedly had done no film study, but they’ve seen enough of Ohio State to know Barrett’s strengths and weaknesses.
I’m not saying Barrett can’t improve as a passer. In a 36-minute media day interview Aug. 14, he spoke repeatedly about trying to grow and become a better quarterback.
He also seemed to have the right perspective on the Heisman hype.
“I don’t put it in Heisman terms. I know if I play the best football I can play, then that’s Heisman caliber, I guess,” he said. “I don’t make that a conscious thought. Every time I go out to practice I try to be the best J.T. Barrett I can be.
“Don’t try to do too much. I guess [if] you’re a quarterback with a lot of young guys around you, you might be caught in that situation where you try to make all these plays. There’s no need. We have great playmakers here, young guys. Get the ball out of my hands, get it in their hands and let them make plays.”
The inexperienced receiving corps has deep-ball threats with speed — Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, James Clark, Johnnie Dixon and Curtis Samuel — who should allow Barrett to show off his arm. But throwing a 15-yard pass that turns into a 50-yard touchdown won’t impress pro scouts.
Last season Barrett didn’t get reps in spring practice because of his ankle, was thrust into a high-profile competition with Jones and was arrested for OVI on Oct. 31. This year there has been no such drama.
“I anticipate he’ll be as good a quarterback as we’ve had. It’s his show and he knows it and he’s prepared,” Meyer said July 26 at the Big Ten meetings.
With another huge year, Barrett could carry the young Buckeyes back to the College Football Playoff. I don’t doubt he’s focused on that.
But in the back of his mind, he has to be thinking about joining his former teammates in the NFL. To improve his game and his prospects of a promising professional future, their texts that will surely flood his phone might be all the motivation he needs.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.