- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The field has been narrowed, and the relative strengths of the two combatants continue to be picked apart as the focus on Ohio State’s quarterback derby intensifies.
But considering the different skill sets at play and what Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett would both bring to the table to the offense for the Buckeyes, it stands to reason that the huge decision facing coach Urban Meyer will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the roster.
So, who has the most to gain based on who emerges as the starter for Ohio State now that Braxton Miller is mostly out of the picture and heading for a more versatile role as a wide receiver and H-back? The Buckeyes are loaded at every position and collectively aren’t going to struggle to put up points regardless of how training camp shakes out behind center, but these players could reap individual benefits based on how their own talents complement the guy taking the snaps.
If Cardale Jones wins the job:
RB Ezekiel Elliott: The preseason Heisman Trophy frontrunner is going to get his yardage either way, but Elliott was clearly at his most effective during the postseason with Jones guiding the attack. It hardly seems like a coincidence Elliott was able to explode for nearly 700 yards over three games at the same time Jones showed up with enough arm strength to keep defensive backs out of the box, particularly since the talented tailback had rushed for more than 100 yards in only half of his regular-season starts. The Buckeyes will no doubt ride Elliott hard this fall either way, but there’s no denying the success he had with Jones in the backfield with him.
WR Michael Thomas: While most of the attention during the College Football Playoff was focused on Devin Smith’s speed and Jones’ arm strength as the perfect recipe for deep strikes, Thomas was quietly putting together one of his most productive stretches for the Buckeyes. He established a new career high with seven catches in the win over Alabama and finished with 14 receptions in all during three starts with Jones at quarterback -- nine of which went for first downs. That run marked Thomas as a legitimate No. 1 option for Ohio State and raised the bar for what he might be able to provide as a weapon both in the intermediate passing game and for some of those trademark bombs down the field.
If J.T. Barrett wins the job:
TE Nick Vannett: The Buckeyes have yet to lean consistently on their tight ends as options for the passing game since Meyer arrived, despite boasting two guys who have proven plenty effective when the football does come their way. Jeff Heuerman is now gone, but Vannett was actually more productive over the course of the season anyway and could see a significant increase in his workload even with Marcus Baugh stepping in to shoulder some of the weight. The tight ends collectively hauled in just four receptions in games started by Jones, but Barrett used the position more frequently by completing multiple passes to Heuerman or Vannett in eight different starts and enjoying some success by hooking up for six combined touchdowns.
WR/H-B Jalin Marshall: With his versatile athleticism and growing comfort in the offense, Marshall is another candidate likely to shine regardless of who takes the snaps for the Buckeyes. But Barrett’s ability to correctly diagnose a play, his quick delivery and his accuracy all help unleash Marshall and maximize his ability to wreak havoc with the football in his hands. Jones was able to do the same by finding him consistently through the air in the College Football Playoff, but Marshall was perhaps never better than when he and Barrett started clicking during consecutive November games against Indiana and Minnesota that produced a combined 10 receptions for 190 yards and four touchdowns.
4dDan Murphy and Austin Ward