Ohio State Buckeyes: Cardale Jones

Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 23, 2014
May 23
4:00
PM ET
Wishing you a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend. Barring breaking news -- fingers crossed -- we'll be back with you bright and early Tuesday.

Follow the Twitter brick road.

Mail call ...

Rajiv from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Do you think that there are any programs in the B1G that would automatically get or deserve a spot in the playoff if they ran the table in any given year? Secondly, suppose a team like Northwestern or Minnesota ran the table and then beat a 12-0 Michigan State team in the BIG Championship. Should one of those teams get an automatic bid? Don't think that situation would happen, but certainly an undefeated Ohio State would garner more recognition than Northwestern.

Adam Rittenberg: Rajiv, it's my belief that any major-conference team that runs the table and wins a league title game to go 13-0 would make the field of four. Why else would you expand the field from two to four? Most Big Ten teams are playing at least one marquee non-league opponent, so even if their league schedule is a little soft like Iowa's or Wisconsin's this year, a perfect mark would be enough to get them in, regardless of their reputation. It would be incredibly disappointing if the committee functions like poll voters and gives preferences to historically strong teams. There would have to be odd circumstances -- two or more undefeated teams from major conferences -- for a 13-0 Big Ten team to be left out.




 
Jason from Tampa writes: What are your thoughts around Penn State and its stance on the Paterno lawsuit? On one hand, Penn State is a defendant in the lawsuit, has made great strides, and a majority of the severe sanctions are behind them. On the other hand, Penn State might get temporary or full relief of all sanctions. Do you believe their stance is a calculated move to avoid bad publicity and not disrupt the relationship with the NCAA in regards to further sanction reductions?

Adam Rittenberg: Jason, I think your first point about Penn State making strides and moving past some of the more severe sanctions is a motivator for the school's position. There's no full relief from the sanctions, since Penn State has had two bowl-eligible teams stay home and continues to operate with reduced scholarships. But the school clearly feels that cooperation with the NCAA is the best route. Penn State also has aligned itself with the Freeh Report, which the Paterno family claims isn't credible. Ultimately, PSU seems too far down the road in lockstep with the NCAA to dramatically change its position.



 

Paul from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I heard Ed Cunningham say on "College Football Live" that from what he observed in the Big Ten last year that the QB play is very poor compared to other conferences. My question(s) to you is: 1) Do you really believe the QB play is that bad in the conference? 2) Who are the QBs in the BIG that could go and start for other major college football programs in other conferences? (You can pull names from last year as well).

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, quarterback play in the Big Ten has been down for some time. The league hasn't had a quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995. That's stunning. Although quarterbacks such as Drew Brees (Purdue), Tom Brady (Michigan) and Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) have gone on to win Super Bowls, the league isn't mass-producing elite signal-callers. Something needs to shift, and it could be the quality of quarterback coaches in the Big Ten. Besides Indiana's Kevin Wilson, are there any true QB gurus in the B1G?

Your second question is a bit tricky because there are some major-conference teams elsewhere with dire QB situations. But Braxton Miller, Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg could start for any FBS squad.



 

Moss from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: The Big Ten is starting to resemble a very wealthy yet dysfunctional family. Consumed by more wealth and shiny toys but not paying attention to their children (teams) as they grossly underperform. Is the BIG more interested in the brand than the actual product? The conference has all the advantages but can't seem to get its proverbial act together.

Adam Rittenberg: Moss, it just doesn't seem to add up. A league should be able to build its brand, generate revenue for its schools and win championships on the field. What do you mean by not paying attention? What do you want the Big Ten to do for its underperforming teams? That's the hard part. Commissioner Jim Delany gets criticized a lot, but he has significantly increased the resources for Big Ten programs, which can pay coaches more and invest in their facilities. Ultimately, the Big Ten can move its campuses to the south and west, where more of the elite players are. But I don't agree the league is neglecting its programs by trying to expand its brand.



 

@roberthendricks via Twitter writes: Do you think OSU has a long-term solution going forward in J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones or Stephen Collier? I know taking a hot QB in this class is essential, but what if they don't? Post-Braxton fear is setting in.

Adam Rittenberg: That fear is real, Robert, as Ohio State's quarterback situation beyond 2014 seems cloudy. Miller's injury this spring allowed Jones and Barrett both to get some significant work in practice. While both struggled in the spring game, Jones enters the summer as Miller's primary backup. Ohio State would be wise to get at least one, if not both, into games this season, even in mop-up time. Collier seems like more of a project, and all three men need some time to develop. I don't think it's realistic to expect Ohio State's next quarterback to match Miller's big-play ability.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

How much faith do the Buckeyes have in the backup QB plan?

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCardale Jones is likely to enter the fall as the backup quarterback for Ohio State.
From the moment Braxton Miller headed to shoulder surgery through the end of camp, Ohio State had little reason to wring its hands and worry about what he might be missing during 15 spring workouts. If anything, the coaching staff immediately seemed to recognize the potential blessing of having its three-year starter and two-time Big Ten player of the year doing nothing but mental work in March and April.

For starters, Miller's physical ability is plenty well established by now, and Ohio State's innovative approach to keeping him involved on the field with a video camera on his head and a microphone near his mouth kept him involved and invested in the learning process. And, perhaps more importantly, it gave the Buckeyes a chance to dive into the evaluation process and figure out just how reliable the safety net is under Miller in case he's forced to miss any more time for injury in the fall.

Kenny Guiton proved himself to be the perfect reliever for the Buckeyes over the last two seasons, always ready to come off the bench at a moment's notice and use his exhaustive knowledge of the playbook to keep the spread offense humming along without missing much of a beat despite not having quite as many tools at his disposal as the incomparable Miller.

But Guiton is gone now, and even after winning the backup job coming out of the spring game, Cardale Jones has big shoes to fill in the No. 2 spot well before he can even think about taking over after Miller's eligibility is up at the end of the season.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer praised the work the physically imposing Jones did during camp, but he danced around the question of how much of a potential drop off there would be if Miller was knocked out of the lineup and the offense was suddenly in the hands of his largely unproven understudy. Jones has a rocket of an arm, but aiming it in the proper spot consistently still seems to be a bit of an issue for the redshirt sophomore.

With unnatural speed for a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder, Jones would still be a threat on the ground in the option or zone-read game, though he's certainly not as explosive as Miller. And by his own admission, Jones has not had the most businesslike approach to his craft since arriving on campus, an area where he would clearly need to make strides to meet the standard Guiton set as the model backup.

But Jones still has plenty of time to go to work before fall camp opens, and when the Buckeyes do report for practice again, they'll have their starter back behind center and again taking the reps with the first-team offense. After a spring without Miller, both Ohio State and Jones now should have a better grasp on what needs to be done to be ready if a similar absence pops up in the fall.

And that doesn't mean closing the gap between Jones and Miller as much as making sure Jones is at least close to Guiton's level.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer seemed to be guarding a secret, and it couldn’t be deciphered by reading between the lines.

The Ohio State coach joked about being a little bored by his spring game, expressed some frustration about the lack of offensive execution and stressed that there was plenty of work to do at a few key positions heading into the offseason.

But the truth about how good his third team at Ohio State might be was tucked away on the sidelines, leaving little to truly evaluate between them as the Gray beat the Scarlet 17-7 on Saturday at the Horseshoe. And based on the number of players he held out of the spring-closing scrimmage, it might be a safe bet that Meyer is actually feeling pretty good about what he has returning in the fall.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe spring game didn't say much about Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. And he seems fine with that.
“There were guys out there who will either never play or they’re not ready to play now,” Meyer said. “Like, [Ohio State sports information director] Jerry [Emig] hands me stats, I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care.

“... We all know what we saw out there. It’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”

Exhibition games rarely provide much of a reliable gauge for how good a team might truly be, and in the case of the Buckeyes, that might have been by design.

Braxton Miller was already on the shelf as he finishes up his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Having the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year and a three-year starter at quarterback out of the equation obviously changes the complexion of the Ohio State offense. Cardale Jones was productive enough throughout camp to win the backup job, but his 14-of-31 passing performance Saturday was yet another reminder of the importance of having a healthy Miller to lead the attack.

Meyer indicated there was some uncertainty about his receiving corps after the spring game, but he had enough faith in Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson that he didn’t feel the need to press either of them into action over the weekend -- aside from a cameo appearance by the latter in a race against students at halftime.

And after watching what could be one of the most talented defensive lines in the country terrorize a rebuilding offensive line throughout camp over the last month, Meyer certainly didn’t need to see any more from Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett or Adolphus Washington to boost his confidence heading into the summer, adding to the list of starters who effectively were allowed to take the day off.

Cornerback Doran Grant was largely an observer as well, though he did make an appearance to win the halftime derby and became the “fastest student” on campus. Projected first-team guard Pat Elflein was a scratch, and presumptive starting running back Ezekiel Elliott only touched the football three times. Tight end Jeff Heuerman was on crutches after foot surgery, but he’ll be back in time for the conditioning program next month.

So while the game itself left little worth remembering aside from what appeared to be marked improvement and depth in the secondary and another handful of mesmerizing catches from Michael Thomas, there were actually clues littered around Ohio Stadium that Meyer is poised to unleash his most talented team since taking over the program in 2012 and rattling off 24 consecutive wins.

The trick was knowing where to look.

“[The spring game] was a chance to see some young guys [who] really haven’t played, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much they will play,” Meyer said. “This is a chance for a lot of guys in our program who work very hard, and to be able to get some guys play or catch a pass in Ohio Stadium or whatever, in the big picture it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s a great thrill for a lot of people.”

The real thrills, of course, don’t come for a few months. And based on the amount of players who didn’t get to actually step between the lines on Saturday, Meyer might not-so-secretly have plenty to be excited about by fall.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The entire roster wasn't on display, leaving some uncertainty about what Ohio State will look like at full strength. But heading into the offseason, there were still some lessons to be learned by the Gray's 17-7 victory over the Scarlet on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

The secondary has improved

  • The offense was short-handed, starting with the absence of a certain two-time defending Big Ten Player of the Year at quarterback and including short or nonexistent workloads for key receivers. But the defensive backs showed the kind of improvement Urban Meyer demanded since last season's unit finished No. 110 in the country against the pass. In holding Cardale Jones to a 14-for-31 performance through the air without a touchdown, even with top returning cornerback Doran Grant on the sideline, the Buckeyes' defensive backs will head into the summer feeling good about their progress. Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley are both solid options at cornerback, with the former making a statement early in the game with a nice breakup on a deep ball down the sideline. And once Grant and injured safety Vonn Bell are back in the mix to play Ohio State's more aggressive man coverage this fall, the statistics should look drastically better.
Braxton Miller is still the key
[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCardale Jones is likely to enter the fall as the backup quarterback for Ohio State.

  • Jones made progress in several areas throughout the spring, and he's earned the right to head into training camp as the second-string quarterback. But Miller remains the most critical component in Ohio State's spread attack, and his absence was a major factor in what was largely a disappointing afternoon for the offense. Miller will be back from his shoulder surgery shortly and is cleared to resume throwing and working out in time for the offseason conditioning program. It is still obvious that the Buckeyes need him on the field if they're going to make a run at a championship this fall. He'll also need some better work from the offensive line than what the Buckeyes put on display in the exhibition, though not having guard Pat Elflein in pads and limiting tackle Taylor Decker's role didn't do the unit any favors Saturday.
Michael Thomas is still a spring star

  • By now it should come as no surprise, but redshirt sophomore Michael Thomas again led the Buckeyes in receptions in the spring game, turned heads with some eye-popping grabs and looked like a future star on the perimeter. That's a familiar story with Thomas, who has dominated the spotlight during spring camp three years running and capped off the latest one with six catches for 64 yards, including a diving reception for a first down and a one-handed snag along the sideline that highlighted his athleticism and ability to haul in even balls thrown off target. The Buckeyes haven't settled on a true pecking order at receiver yet, though Dontre Wilson and Devin Smith are sure bets to take two top spots. One more time, it appears Ohio State should make room for Thomas in the rotation leaving spring, but obviously he'll need to follow it up with more standout work when practice begins again this summer.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Spring weather has just now finally arrived for Ohio State, but its camp is already about to come to a close. Ahead of Saturday's exhibition game to wrap up the 15 workouts spread through March and April, the final look at things to watch will breakd own some intriguing matchups now that the official rosters have been unveiled.

[+] EnlargeDarryl Baldwin
AP Photo/David DurochikWith a tough matchup in Ohio State's spring game, Darryl Baldwin could prove he can lockdown the starting RT job.
Scarlet QB Cardale Jones vs. Gray secondary

  • The redshirt sophomore has strengthened his case to fill the backup role at quarterback behind Braxton Miller with strong practice performances throughout camp, but he's shown some signs of nerves at times during scrimmages and could benefit from a productive outing in a live setting in front of a big crowd. Urban Meyer typically focuses his attention and play-calling on the passing attack during spring games, and with the Gray having what appears to be the full starting secondary with Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows at safety and Doran Grant, Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley at cornerback, Jones will be tested.
Gray LB Raekwon McMillan vs. Scarlet RB Ezekiel Elliott

  • The hype is only building for the touted early enrollee on defense, and McMillan might be the most closely watched player in the Horseshoe as he's thrown into a lineup that includes two projected starters next to him at the outside linebacker spots. The true freshman has impressed the coaching staff during the 14 workouts so far, looking the part physically and embracing the culture Meyer is working so hard to reestablish. Even if finishing camp with some solid work against Ohio State's front-runner at tailback and three first-team offensive linemen doesn't help McMillan reel in senior Curtis Grant on the depth chart, it could still bode well for his chances to help provide depth in the fall -- and start building even more buzz for next season.
Scarlet RT Darryl Baldwin vs. Gray DE Noah Spence

  • Tougher spring game assignments than what Baldwin will face on Saturday are hard to come by, and really, the redshirt senior isn't likely to take on many pass rushers better than Spence when the real season arrives. So if Baldwin can hold his own against one of the fastest, most tenacious players off the edge in the Big Ten this weekend, that would go a long way toward solidifying a starting job and easing some of the uncertainty still swirling around an offensive line that must replace four starters. The Scarlet line as a whole caught a bit of a break with the first-team defensive line being split up, but Spence still has Adolphus Washington alongside him and ready to wreak the kind of havoc that stole the show in last year's edition of the spring showcase.

Spring game preview: Ohio State

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
9:00
AM ET
Ohio State has an action-packed afternoon planned for its spring showcase, including an undercard that features a lacrosse game in the Horseshoe and halftime entertainment that includes Ohio State players racing students. Here’s more of what to expect from the annual LiFE Sports Spring Game:

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesBackup QB Cardale Jones development will be a big storyline to watch in Ohio State's spring game.
Admission: General admission tickets are $5 (originally priced $12 in advance; fans who already purchased tickets can get a refund for the difference from the place they bought the tickets beginning Monday, or donate the difference to the LiFE Sports program and Boys and Girls Club). Children under six years old and Ohio State students get in free.

TV: Big Ten Network (live coverage)

Weather forecast: Conditions should be just about perfect after a spring spent largely indoors for the Buckeyes. The high temperature is projected to be 72 degrees and the forecast calls for a zero percent chance of rain, setting the table for what should be a gorgeous afternoon at the Shoe.

What to watch for: The Buckeyes try to balance the teams as much as possible to present a competitive game for fans and a chance to evaluate the roster for coaches, and that should provide a few notable measuring sticks at critical positions heading into the offseason.

It’s no secret that pass defense was awful for Ohio State down the stretch as it dropped its final two games last season, and while Chris Ash has only had 14 practices as the new co-defensive coordinator in charge of the secondary, early reviews have been positive. But how will the defensive backs match up against a proven deep threat such as Devin Smith or a speed-burner such as Dontre Wilson on the perimeter?

For that matter, how will the passing attack look without Braxton Miller at the helm for the Buckeyes as he continues to recuperate from offseason shoulder surgery? The importance of replacing backup quarterback Kenny Guiton shouldn’t be overlooked for Ohio State, considering the number of times he was needed off the bench during his career, and Cardale Jones will be under the microscope in the spring showcase to see how far he’s come with his accuracy and as a decision-maker.

There is some uncertainty about the starting offensive line as the Buckeyes try to replace four starters up front, and there’s a heated battle going on between a handful of candidates trying to fill the void at running back left by Carlos Hyde. But the main focus for the Buckeyes will be on the skill players on the perimeter -- on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Meyer, no doubt, will be paying close attention to whatever happens when the ball is in the air.
Head coaches from the Big Ten East Division, along with a player from each team, addressed the media this afternoon on teleconferences. The West Division players and coaches spoke Wednesday.

Here's a closer look at the East:

INDIANA
  • Defense has been a lingering Indiana concern for years, but coach Kevin Wilson believes he's starting to see a change, thanks to new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. The scheme hasn't changed radically, but the Hoosiers return 10 starters there -- and Wilson's seen a promising spring so far with an added focus on competition and communication: "They've for sure held their own on a daily basis -- and, in some ways, probably even better -- against the offense."
  • Wilson believes teams need to invest scholarships into the kicking game, but he thinks it's also too risky to offer recruits straight out of high school. If you look at the NCAA's top 25 kickers, Wilson estimated at least 15 started out as walk-ons. So he's hoping to find some walk-ons who are willing to work for a scholarship, rather than be granted one right away.
  • At 5-foot-7, Shane Wynn is the Hoosiers' leading returning receiver, and he's transitioning to playing the outside. It's been a little different for Wynn, who said he's had to watch more film as a result. He's reading the corners now, instead of the safeties, as just one example.
MARYLAND
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall is confident in his offense and believes the Terrapins have enough options so that opponents can't focus on just one person. If defenses lock on to wideout Stefon Diggs, then quarterback C.J. Brown can take off running or receiver Deon Long can pick up some slack. "The No. 1 thing I do like," Edsall said, "is we can spread the field."
  • Maryland's staff has already started looking at film of Big Ten teams, so they know what to expect when the conference season begins. Edsall said he wants to at least get a feel for their personnel and what kind of schemes he'll face. He's also confident the Terps will be ready: "We fully expect to be able to compete when we get into the Big Ten this year."
  • Brown said one of the main reasons he committed to Maryland was the coach who recruited him at the time, former Terps assistant and current Penn State coach James Franklin. He's looking forward to squaring off against Franklin this season, and Edsall said there's no question he would like to develop a rivalry with the Nittany Lions.
MICHIGAN
  • The quarterback derby will continue, and Brady Hoke included all three of his options in the discussion heading into the offseason. The Wolverines coach did acknowledge, though, that Devin Gardner “probably would be” the starter if there was a game on the schedule this weekend. There isn’t, so Shane Morris and Wilton Speight will continue to be in the conversation.
  • The first opponent on the schedule will always stir emotions for Michigan fans, but Hoke didn’t attach any revenge or sentimentality to his reasons for wanting to take on Appalachian State in the opener this fall. “We needed a game,” Hoke said. “I thought it would be a good game.” Defensive end Frank Clark was certainly aware of the history between the programs, even though he was still years away from joining Michigan and getting a shot at making up for the upset loss in 2007 -- which he called “shocking” and “shows how hard those guys play.”
MICHIGAN STATE
  • Michigan State is coming off a Rose Bowl victory, but coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook would prefer not to think about that any longer. Dantonio said they've talked a lot these last four months about not growing complacent, and Cook only echoed his coach. "A lot of people keep bringing up the Rose Bowl," Cook said. "But we're past that. We're focusing on the now."
  • The offensive line has made some big strides since January, at least according to Cook. He felt like he had no time in the pocket last spring and said the pass rush was getting to him every time. This spring? He doesn't feel rushed in the pocket, and he thinks that's pretty indicative of how far this line has come.
  • Jeremy Langford earned a lot of praise from Cook, who said the running back has become a much bigger part of the passing attack. "He's improved a lot with catching the ball," Cook said, complimenting Langford's versatility. "He's done so many different things for us."
OHIO STATE
  • There is still work to be done in addressing the most glaring weakness on the team last season, but Urban Meyer called Ohio State’s pass defense “drastically improved” and will be watching closely for more signs of progress in Saturday’s spring game. The Buckeyes will play a traditional game, but the emphasis will be on throwing the football and assessing the skill players on both offense and defense -- giving Meyer a chance to evaluate backup quarterback Cardale Jones in a live setting in addition to checking out the secondary.
  • Arguably the strongest part of last season's team is undergoing a transition without four senior starters, and the offensive line is somewhat of a concern for Meyer heading into the offseason. With guard Pat Elflein the only other player to have earned a first-team slot to play alongside junior Taylor Decker at this point, that competition is likely to spill over into preseason camp in August. Both tackle Darryl Baldwin and guard Antonio Underwood were praised for their work by defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and Billy Price and Jacoby Boren are dueling at center.
PENN STATE
  • Franklin said he knew exactly what he was getting into at Penn State, in terms of the current depth and sanctions. He and former coach Bill O'Brien worked together at Maryland, and he said the two had a lot of honest conversations about the current state of the Nittany Lions. The two have continued to talk since.
  • Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia are both making transitions from defensive tackle to offensive guard, and Franklin said he has been pleased with their performances so far: "They're doing a good job for us -- and they have to. We're thin at that position."
  • Franklin said he feels especially comfortable with the talent at running back and defensive line. Middle linebacker Mike Hull was more specific about naming the players who impressed him, pointing to backup linebacker Gary Wooten and cornerback Da'Quan Davis. Hull said Wooten is always around the football and that Davis, who missed part of the spring with a hamstring injury, has come up with several interceptions.
RUTGERS
  • Another open competition at the most critical position on the field -- quarterback -- is still playing out at Rutgers, and coach Kyle Flood isn’t ready to declare a winner in what would seem to be a wide-open battle. Flood indicated that Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano are all “really vying for that first-team job.”
  • The change in conference affiliation has been welcomed with open arms by the Scarlet Knights, who can “feel the energy” as theypractice for their first season in the Big Ten. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said the team was already buzzing with excitement about the opportunity, and Flood called joining the league a “positive in every way.” The move also presents the opportunity for a rivalry to develop with new divisional neighbor Penn State, with both Flood and Hamilton citing the proximity between the schools as a bonus.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nothing has changed.

But to Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, that might actually be a sign of progress.

With the top quarterback on the shelf and their veteran, reliable backup no longer with the program, the Buckeyes have had plenty of time and attention to devote to the battle to replace Kenny Guiton behind entrenched starter Braxton Miller. And with Cardale Jones in the same spot with the first-string offense after six practices that he occupied when spring camp opened, the lack of news Herman has had to report is actually good news for Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCardale Jones is getting valuable experience with the first team during spring with Braxton Miller sidelined.
“I think it’s telling that through six practices Cardale Jones is still getting the majority of reps with the ones,” Herman said after practice on Tuesday. “To say that he’s head and shoulders [ahead] or taking a step forward, I don’t know that it would be accurate. But he hasn’t done anything to not deserve to take those reps.

“He’s playing like a quarterback at Ohio State should.”

There’s still no question who the starting quarterback at Ohio State will be in the fall, but Miller’s shoulder surgery and subsequent rehabilitation during March and April has come with a silver lining as the coaching staff evaluates candidates for the crucial relief role Guiton filled so admirably over the last two seasons.

For all his considerable talent and eye-popping production, Miller has been forced to the sideline in a handful of games with minor health issues during his career and also missed three weeks due to a knee injury last fall, with Guiton seamlessly taking the reins every time he was needed. But regardless of how much Jones or J.T. Barrett might be called upon in the fall, the Buckeyes are taking full advantage of the extra work both are getting now to try to get them ready for more than a backup role down the road with Miller heading into his final season.

“I tell those two guys a lot of the time, just be you,” Herman said. “Their strengths are so different. I tell J.T., you get paid a scholarship to make great decisions, to get the ball out of your hands and be accurate. You’re not going to grow, your arm, this year, is not going to get a whole lot stronger. ... So be on time, be accurate and be right with what you do with the football.

“Cardale, your strengths are different as well. Cardale is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and can throw it through that wall. Use some of that, use the talents that you have and then while we develop the portions of your game that need to be developed, we’ll do that.”

For Jones, that process appears largely focused on the redshirt sophomore's accuracy, particularly after scattering throws off target during parts of a scrimmage on Saturday.

But his combination of speed and size makes him an intriguing option as a rusher at quarterback, though certainly in a different way than the elusive, electric Miller. And there’s no question about his arm strength, which has previously been on display during open practices and has produced a handful of explosive plays down the field thanks to his ability to deliver the deep ball.

So, after throwing out maybe one rocky performance among six thus far, those positives outweigh any negatives and leave Jones in the same solid position to contribute to the Buckeyes that he was in when camp opened.

“That was just a ‘this is my first scrimmage on a winner-loser day as the quarterback with the first offense at the Ohio State University and I’m nervous as hell’ thing,” Herman said. “What he showed me on Saturday was not indicative of the previous four practices or [Tuesday’s] practice. So we’ve got to make sure they don’t get so worked up on a Saturday scrimmage because it’s winner-loser day and all their fundamentals and technique and knowledge go out the window.

“Cardale has done a great job. He has done nothing to deserve less reps with the ones right now.”

A healthy Miller would change that equation, of course. But for now, Herman has nothing new to report and seemingly no reason to complain.

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:00
PM ET
Eyes closed, head first, can't lose.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
12:00
PM ET
Thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Isaac Griffith and his family.

Early OSU observations: No. 5

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
3:30
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State’s two practices to open camp before taking the week off for spring break give you a peek at some new faces and a couple of changes. While the Buckeyes are gearing up for the sprint to the finish of spring workouts, we’re looking at the early developments and what they mean for Urban Meyer’s team.

No. 5: Quarterbacks under the microscope

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCardale Jones will audition for Ohio State's backup QB job this spring.
The video feed coming from the camera on Braxton Miller’s head might not make for perfect viewing, but the Ohio State senior’s running commentary breaking down coverages and where to deliver the football certainly makes up for the lack of entertainment value. It also drives home the lengths the coaching staff will go to maximize the talent of its quarterbacks, even when they can’t throw a football due to offseason shoulder surgery.

And while Miller’s ongoing education figures to have the most significant impact for Ohio State’s title chances, the last two seasons have provided plenty of evidence that having a steady backup is just as critical -- and monitoring that job is just as labor-intensive for quarterbacks coach Tom Herman.

Fortunately for Herman, Miller’s injury provided something of a blessing in disguise by freeing up reps for Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett to audition for the No. 2 spot, and after the first week there doesn’t appear to be any change in the pecking order. Jones has been around the program longer, and that experience and his impressive natural skills have given him the edge over Barrett, whose intelligence and accuracy are big assets.

There’s still plenty of time for something to change, and Jones and Barrett will have no shortage of opportunities to build their case for the role Kenny Guiton filled so admirably over the past two seasons. But at this point, Jones is making the most of his chances to lead the first-team offense when Miller is not around, which could be invaluable if that situation pops up again when it matters.

Top spring position battles: No. 5

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field in spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline.

But the pressure isn't the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won't be sweating a competition for a starting job -- obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But who will back up Braxton Miller is just one of the most intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and that's where this week's countdown begins as we look at the candidates for some critical gigs for a team with its sights set on winning it all come fall.

[+] EnlargeKenny Guiton
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Kenny Guiton was the ultimate security blanket the past two seasons. Will Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett earn that spot in 2014?
No. 5: Backup quarterback

  • Predecessor: Kenny Guiton (75 for 109, 749 yards, 14 touchdowns, two interceptions; 40 carries for 330 yards and five TDs)
  • Candidates: Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett
  • Why to watch: Given the amount of hits Miller takes and the number of times he's been forced out of games even briefly due to injury, there's no question that having a security blanket behind him is crucial for the Buckeyes. Nobody made Meyer feel cozier than Guiton over the last two seasons, and he became something of a legend for his uncanny ability to keep the offense rolling along when Miller was forced out of the lineup. Ohio State is unlikely to get the same level of maturity and leadership the fifth-year senior provided from two guys with such limited experience, but it will need to quickly identify whether it's Jones or Barrett who has the best chance to duplicate Guiton's on-field success off the bench.
  • Pre-camp edge: The Buckeyes made a point of getting Jones some significant reps during spring ball a year ago, and he was then given a couple opportunities to show what he could do in a live setting by appearing in three games last season. There's not much to be learned about his ability throwing the football with just two passes on his resume, but Jones showed how dangerous he can be running it with 17 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. Even that small amount of experience and the time he's had to absorb the playbook should give him a head start in March, but Barrett certainly can't be ruled out after arriving on campus and instantly impressing the coaching staff with his grasp of the system and devotion to learning his craft.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Hitting one out of two was about all Ohio State could ask for with its star juniors.

Even better for the Buckeyes, they're apparently keeping the one who really matters to their title hopes in 2014.

Ryan Shazier is a fantastic defender, and given the woes on that side of the ball at the end of the season, Urban Meyer certainly can use as many of those as possible as he rebuilds and reloads that unit. Losing him to the NFL draft, as SI.com reported citing a source, is a significant blow. But the Ohio State coach has been stockpiling talent to turn loose defensively next season -- and replacing Braxton Miller was always going to be the taller order.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Allen Kee / ESPN ImagesBraxton Miller's return instantly puts Ohio State in the conversation for next season's national title.
Now the Buckeyes won't have to do that for another year, and the benefits are obvious.

The record-setting spread offense will have its engine back with yet another year to absorb the system, become a better student of the game and again improve his mechanics. For all Miller's struggles at the end of the year throwing the football, whether he was banged up, slowed by bad weather or whatever else, he again proved in the Discover Orange Bowl how invaluable his singular skills are to the Buckeyes as he nearly dragged them to a win by himself with four total touchdowns.

Of course, the bid for a late comeback ultimately came up short when Miller misread a coverage and fired an easy interception directly to a Clemson defender, adding one more bit of evidence that he's not quite ready to be a professional passer. There was plenty of proof to go around during the final month of the regular season and another sloppy outing in the Big Ten title game. But even with Miller not quite reaching his potential, there's probably nobody in the country whom Meyer would trade for to run his offense.

Miller is the two-time defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He has twice finished in the top 10 in voting for the Heisman Trophy. And while his arm might get criticized at times and NFL scouts night not have considered him ready to move on, Miller is plenty good enough at the level he's at now to take the Buckeyes back into national-title contention during his senior season.

Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett could wind up being productive quarterbacks down the road, and they might have been capable of leading an attack with veteran skill players such as Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman returning along with promising dynamic threats such as Dontre Wilson and redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall without missing a beat. But they almost certainly don't have Miller's multipurpose athleticism. They haven't been through nearly as many battles leading the offense, and the Buckeyes would certainly have their hands full trying to bring the young quarterbacks along behind an offensive line with four new starters.

Shazier would have been icing on the cake if he returned. But Miller is the main course, and the Buckeyes now have enough to feed on to get back in position to play for it all next season.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The guy with the higher stock indicated he was leaning toward staying.

The one with all the uncertainty surrounding him declared himself ready for the next level and seemed to tilt toward the exit.

But with Ryan Shazier perhaps too hot of a commodity to return for another year in college and Braxton Miller at least giving the impression that he’s willing to bet on himself, that combination could be a problem for No. 7 Ohio State. It might leave them without both stars after Friday night’s Discover Orange Bowl and some mighty big shoes to fill when the Buckeyes start turning their attention to the 2014 season and what could be another run at a national title.

[+] Enlarge Ryan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteAfter a hugely productive season and good evaluations from draft experts, Ryan Shazier might be best served entering the NFL draft.
Is the matchup against Clemson the final time the playmaking linebacker and the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year will put on Ohio State uniforms? What impact will those decisions have the Buckeyes moving forward?

As both the deadline to declare for the draft and the Discover Orange Bowl both creep up, it’s time to peek into the crystal ball.

Ryan Shazier

After yet another incredibly productive campaign stuffing the stats sheet in every conceivable way, there’s really not much Shazier has left to prove as a college linebacker. He can make tackles anywhere on the field, he’s shown an uncanny ability to time the snap as a blitzer and use his athleticism to make plays in the backfield and he’s consistently delivered timely plays when the Buckeyes have needed them most.

But even with all that on his resume, Shazier publicly called himself “dead-flat in the middle” between staying or going before giving a slight edge to the former during bowl practices.

  • If he stays: The Buckeyes have been building toward the 2014 season with strong recruiting at every level of the defense, though linebacker still remains the position with the lowest margin for error based on the depth on hand. Having Shazier stick around would keep the entire starting front seven intact heading into next year, which could make it even more difficult to run the ball against Ohio State and take some pressure off what figures to be a young secondary.
  • If he goes: There will still be plenty of talent and experience on the Ohio State defense, but it will need some fresh faces to develop quickly and fill the void on the outside. Trey Johnson was a prized commodity in the signing class a year ago, and he might need to be ready to live up to his potential next fall.
  • Shazier’s ESPN.com position rank: No. 4 outside linebacker
  • Prediction: Enters the NFL draft
Braxton Miller

There’s hardly any room to criticize Miller at the competitive level he’s playing at now, and few players have ever accumulated hardware at the rate he’s been on over the last two seasons at quarterback. He’s obviously won a few games, too.

But projecting Miller at the next level gets a bit trickier, because his passing numbers dipped down the stretch and professional general managers will undoubtedly be picking apart his arm and accuracy when they decide where to draft him to lead an NFL offense.

When pressed about his future, Miller said he was “definitely” ready to play at the next level in terms of his physical ability, but he was still waiting for some feedback from the draft evaluators before making a decision that is expected within about a week after the bowl game.

  • If he stays: The Buckeyes have four starters to replace on the offensive line and Carlos Hyde won’t be in the backfield to help share the load, but Miller’s presence alone in Urban Meyer’s spread offense should ensure a lot of points on the board yet again. Ohio State has recruited well at the skill positions and has veteran targets like wide receiver Devin Smith and tight end Jeff Heuerman returning, so Miller certainly wouldn’t have to do it all himself to keep things humming along for what would again figure to be a dynamic attack.
  • If he goes: Eventually Miller is going to have to be replaced, but the Buckeyes would clearly prefer to put that off for another year. Invaluable backup Kenny Guiton will be gone after this season, putting rising sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett in line for the marquee role for a potential title contender. Jones is big, strong and mobile and would likely have the edge heading to spring practice, but Barrett has been widely praised for his football intelligence since arriving on campus and could make a strong push for the job.
  • Miller’s ESPN.com position rank: No. 13 quarterback
  • Prediction: Returns for senior season

Big Ten Christmas Eve mailbag

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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Since Christmas is tomorrow, the normal Big Ten Wednesday mailbag comes at you a day early. Consider this your letters to Santa blog:

Matt from Tucson, Ariz., writes: I'll send my question to you since you chose Nebraska as your most improved bowl team. I'm curious why (as a whole) Nebraska is perceived as a bad team that didn't meet expectations? I was watching ESPN's bowl preview show and was disappointed that Mike Belotti called Nebraska "a bad team" while Georgia was declared a team that persevered through injuries. Didn't Nebraska persevere through enough O-Line, WR, and QB injuries to make it to an 8-4 record? The O-line was so beat up that Vincent Valentine was needed on the FG team by the end of the season. Why is there no love for the Huskers?

Brian Bennett: "Bad" is a very subjective word, Matt, and not one I'd use to describe this Nebraska team. It's true that the Cornhuskers did get a whole lot of crummy luck when it came to injuries, including losing senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and much of the offensive line. Nebraska did a great job of persevering and pulling out victories in tough games against Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan, the latter two of which came on the road. If there's a difference between Nebraska and Georgia, it's that the Bulldogs have marquee victories over South Carolina and LSU and came within a miracle play of beating Auburn on the road. The Huskers didn't accomplish anything close to that and suffered three blowout losses at home -- to UCLA, Michigan State and Iowa.

Tim from Raleigh, N.C., writes: Will the Capital One Bowl be the last game Joel Stave starts for Wisconsin? I want Bart Houston (#BartHouston2014 which I try to get trending on Twitter) to start next year. I've been excited about this kid since he committed. I thought Gary Andersen might not be as thrilled since he is a pocket passer, but I looked at Houston's stats and he had 338 rushing yards and 19 rushing TDs in his senior HS season. He's supposed to have the better arm and can probably run better than Stave. I respect Stave a lot being an in-state walk on, but I don't think he's the answer for the next 2 years. I'm also scared Houston could then transfer. I don't want us to be in a Nebraska type situation where get stuck with a QB that you started as a freshman. Also, Houston has to start, HE'S NAMED AFTER BART STARR!!

Brian Bennett: Well, he's got a good name and some nice high school stats. There's an airtight case that he should start. Ahem.

There's nothing quite like the love for backup quarterbacks among fans. A player is almost never as popular as he is before he plays a significant down. Hey, Bart Houston might wind up as a great player. We have no idea. I'll tell you who does, though: Andersen, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and the rest of the Badgers staff. They've seen Houston practice every day since they've come to Madison. If they thought Houston was better than Stave, he would have played more by now.

Maybe Houston progresses in the offseason and overtakes Stave, who simply missed too many throws in 2013. Or maybe Tanner McEvoy makes a move at quarterback, though his future may well lie on defense after he played well at safety. It's no secret that Andersen likes mobile quarterbacks. Right now, though, Stave still has a huge experience edge. It will be up to someone else to outplay him in practice.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Al GoldisCould Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi get a head coaching job soon?
Matt from SoCal writes: Do you see Pat Narduzzi as a real option to be the head coach at Texas?

Brian Bennett: I don't, Matt. It's not that I think Narduzzi couldn't do a good job at Texas. It's just that I don't believe the Longhorns will hire a coordinator. They've got more money than Scrooge McDuck and are going to shoot for the moon with this job. Narduzzi might, however, benefit from a possible coaching carousel resulting from the Texas hire.

Kevin from Rock Island, Ill., writes: Illinois has really been going after the Juco players. What are your thoughts on the strategy and some of the signees so far? It has worked for Groce and the basketball program, but when there are so many holes, it seems like a short term fix to a bigger problem.

Brian Bennett: No doubt there are some issues with signing a lot of junior college guys. Not all pan out, and you risk getting in the cycle of needing more and more to fill gaps. But Tim Beckman really needs more depth and experience on the roster, and I think he sees this mostly as a short-term fix. The guys Illinois signed last year weren't exactly superstars, but players like Zane Petty and Martize Barr contributed, and Eric Finney might have done more than that had he stayed healthy. I can't pretend to know how good these incoming 2014 jucos will be, but I do like that the Stone-Davis brothers both fill needs at receiver and defensive backs and have three years left to play.

Connor M. from Lima, Ohio, writes: Love the work you guys do for the Big Ten! Looking ahead to next year, let's say Braxton and Shazier both play well in the Orange Bowl, raise their stock and turn pro. How much will the offense and defense be affected and who do you see replacing those two in their respective positions, most specifically, the QB spot?

Brian Bennett: Thanks, Connor. I think Ryan Shazier is the more likely of the two to go pro, and Ohio State could more easily absorb that loss, even though it would be a huge one. The defensive line should continue to improve, and there's a ton of young talent at linebacker and in the secondary on the way. Losing Braxton Miller, however, would change the whole outlook for the 2014 Buckeyes, especially since most of the offensive line and Carlos Hyde also are seniors. The only experience at all on the roster at quarterback is Cardale Jones, and he's a freshman who has thrown four passes. Freshman J.T. Barrett and incoming recruit Stephen Collier would battle Jones for the starting job, but Ohio State would basically be starting from scratch. In a much more difficult division.

BUCKIHATER from Future Home of the BigTen, NYC, writes: If you look back starting from the modern era of college football (1960's- present), the school who loves to put the word 'THE' in front of its name only has two claimed national titles -- you can even argue they should only have one if it wasn't for a really bad call, while the other happened before Woodstock. If you compare the 'THE' to other traditional football powerhouses like 'Bama, Miami, even Nebraska who all have 5 or more since the 60's, its not even close. Why does 'THE' get so much love on being the savior for the Big Ten? I was shocked to see the lack of championships over the last 50 years and Michigan State just did what every team in the Big Ten wanted to do for 2 years: Beat the bullies from Columbus.

Brian Bennett: So I take it you're not an Ohio State fan, then? Listen, if you want to start talking about national championships won by the Big Ten since the 1960s, this is not going to turn out well for anyone. Since 1970, we've got Michigan's split national title in 1997, Ohio State's in 2002 and ... hey, look, at that squirrel over there! The Buckeyes have been the only Big Ten team to even play for a national championship in the BCS era as a league member, and they've done it three times. So if you want to hate on Ohio State, that's fine. But that makes the rest of the conference look even worse by comparison.

Doug from KC, MO, writes: I have a Hawkeye question stemming from some recent conversations I've had with Nebraska fans. They always talk about whether to get another coach or not because they want to be contending for National Titles like the old (90's) days. I tell them for most teams in the country, and especially the BIG, this is pretty unrealistic. CFB is at a point where a lot of the odds/rules/recruiting are stacked against northern teams and outside of programs with lots of tradition (Mich, OSU and even ND) it is going to be very tough for you to have a regular NCG contender. I hope for a BCS game or Rose Bowl for Iowa every 4-5 years but it is just too much of a stretch for me to think Iowa (and other mid-tier BIG teams) will make a NCG appearance. Do you think some BIG teams have expectations that are too high or am I on the Debbie Downer side of the argument?

Brian Bennett: Doug, can you talk to BUCKIHATER for me? Anyway, I'm not sure enough Big Ten programs are ambitious enough. The Rose Bowl is great, but too many league teams talk like the Big Ten title is the ultimate goal, and I believe that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. How many times did you hear Urban Meyer talk about how much the Buckeyes just wanted to get to the Rose Bowl?

Anyway, as I just wrote a moment ago, the Big Ten hasn't exactly been reeling in the national titles. Here's the good news for the league, and for a team like Iowa: the forthcoming Playoff opens things up. Have a great year, win the Big Ten, and there's a chance you'll be in the four-team playoff. From there, who knows? Getting to that playoff, not the Rose Bowl, has to be the goal for every serious league team from 2014 on.

Chris from Northern Michigan writes: Happy holidays, Brian, and merry bowl season. I would like to get your thoughts on the MSU QB situation. Obviously it looks like Connor Cook has the job wrapped up for the next two years, barring injury or a huge year next year leading to NFL early entry. Would you expect Damion Terry or Tyler O'Connor to transfer? MSU just lost a QB recruit, and while it would be understandable that either current QB would want to play, a Cook injury could be catastrophic if either transfers.

Brian Bennett: Catastrophic? Well, you'd still have Cook and at least one backup. Not a whole lot of teams had to play three quarterbacks major minutes this season, outside of Nebraska. Cook will be hard to unseat after going 9-0 in the Big Ten and winning a title. I do think there will be some sort of role for Terry, because he's just too talented not to get on the field. Wouldn't surprise me one bit if O'Connor moved on.

And to your first point, Chris, Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.

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