J.T. Barrett has the clicker in his hand and a notebook in front of him as play after play is projected on the large screen in the Ohio State quarterback room.
It is Tuesday, and Ohio State’s season-opener against Indiana is 44 days away. But already the quarterback is getting a jump on his final season as a Buckeye.
He is analyzing the 2016 Hoosiers defense against Ohio State when the Buckeyes are in an “empty” formation — Barrett alone in the backfield. On one play, he second-guesses himself for throwing to a tightly covered receiver when another had more space on the other side of the field.
On another, he believes he did the right thing when he took off running for a short gain rather than forcing a throw. After each play, he notes Hoosiers’ tendencies and jots them down.
Already, this has been an active day in Ohio State’s “offseason” for Barrett and his teammates. They had a weight-lifting session in the morning and a mile-long run. That was followed by a series of strength-building drills — throwing a medicine ball against a storage shed, jumping in the sand pit, dragging heavy weights on a sled, striking a tractor tire with a rubber sledgehammer.
Now it’s video time, and Barrett calmly points out what he sees and does with a clinical eye.
Others aren’t so dispassionate about Barrett. Admirers praise him for his leadership — he will be the first three-time captain in Ohio State history — his savvy as a runner and his 26-4 record as a starter. Detractors question his passing, pointing to the slight decrease in his completion percentage over the last three years. Some of the criticism falls into the familiarity-breeds-contempt category. Barrett, a fifth-year senior who was thrust into a starting role in 2014, seems to have been at Ohio State for eons.
Barrett understands. Little fazes him, certainly not the view of a minority of fans.
“At quarterback, you’re not always going to be liked,” Barrett said. “When you win, I get the praise and probably don’t deserve it. When you lose, I get the blame, which is fine, and I probably didn’t deserve that, either.”
The latter came after Ohio State’s 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff. After that debacle, coach Urban Meyer overhauled his offensive coaching staff. Kevin Wilson was hired as coordinator and Ryan Day took over as quarterbacks coach. Assistants Ed Warinner and Tim Beck departed.
Barrett acknowledges that “we just weren’t operating at our best” offensively in 2016. A fifth-year quarterback with Barrett’s resume might be concerned about having new coaches, but he said he trusts Meyer’s judgment.
“There’s not going to be any resistance,” Barrett said.
His relationship with Wilson and Day has developed well, he said.
“Coach Wilson is a high-spirited guy,” Barrett said. “If you need some juice, you go find coach Wilson and coach Wilson has got some for you. Coach Day played quarterback and has that quarterback feel. He’s never riled, always calm. But he also has his outgoing side as well, which is good.”
Barrett has been throwing with receivers this summer, aiming to improve chemistry and timing that was often lacking last season. Barrett took some of the blame for that and provided some interesting analysis for why.
“As a freshman, my thought process was really simple,” he said. “If the ball was supposed to go there, then the ball goes to that area. If he wasn’t open, I’d take off running or go to the check-down (receiver). It was that simple.”
As he gained familiarity with the offense, Barrett trusted himself to hold onto the ball longer to allow a play to develop, which sometimes backfired.
“I would tell myself, ‘Just wait a little more time until the receiver gets open,’ ” he said. “But it doesn’t always work out that way. That’s how football is. I would wait on things. That’s when we would have bad spacing and bad timing, and then I’d have to fit balls into windows I didn’t have to. It’s funny how the more I started to see the game and it started to slow down, I made it harder for myself.”
Barrett aspires to make it to the NFL, but he is not worried about that now. He has been through enough ups and downs in his Ohio State career to understand the perils of looking too far ahead.
“Are there things that I wish for in the future and am working toward? Absolutely,” Barrett said. “But I’m focused on how we can be the best we can at Ohio State right now.”
Barrett was one of Ohio State’s three player representatives at Big Ten media days in Chicago last year. He said he was asked whether he would like to attend again, and said he would prefer it if another deserving player went instead.
Barrett has never been one to get caught up in hoopla, after all. If he and Ohio State play up to their lofty expectations, bigger prizes await.
“I feel if I do the best I can to better our team, all the other stuff is going to fall into place,” he said. “I worry about being my best and helping us win football games and getting us to play the best we can.”