Early in Ohio State’s preseason football camp, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano was asked what words popped into his mind when he heard the name J.T. Barrett.
“Elite warrior,” Schiano said of the Buckeyes’ senior quarterback, who is headed into his fourth year as the starter.
First-year quarterbacks coach Ryan Day was asked the same thing on Monday, having spent the past eight months getting to know Barrett.
“Mature. Driven. Tough. Relentless,” Day said. “He’s a winner.”
And to hear them and coach Urban Meyer tell it, another couple of words that should be added are bolder and accurate. Most OSU fans have known that other stuff for years, since Barrett stepped up as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and led the Buckeyes to the doorstep of a national championship.
What they want to hear this year is whether Barrett and the passing game — receivers, protectors — are getting their act together. It’s the aspect that let the Buckeyes down in games against tough defenses last year, the epitome being the 31-0 loss to Clemson in a national semifinal.
It’s one aspect of the offense Meyer wanted fixed when he brought in former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator this year and Day, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, as quarterbacks coach. So far in camp, Meyer has praised Barrett’s trajectory, which is the barometer for the offense.
“His accuracy and just his energy level right now is incredible,” Meyer said after practice on Monday. “He’s providing that energy for everybody. He’s always done that, but … he’s got complete ownership of everything going on in that offense.
“His relationship with Ryan Day is incredible, and his skill set, the thing he’s most improved at right now is accuracy.”
The boldness has something to do with that. Barrett admitted there were times in the past, especially last year, when he didn’t want to launch a pass without seeing a clear, open window to a receiver. Now, especially with Day’s urging, he is learning to pull the trigger and go for placement.
The aim is “giving our guys a chance to get the football,” Barrett said. “I guess ball placement is part of that. But it’s funny because when coach Day came in he was talking about, ‘In the NFL, everybody’s covered. Why do you throw the ball as a quarterback if everybody’s covered?’
“With your ball placement and giving (receivers) a chance to touch the ball, that’s how you get completions. … Those guys are not always going to be wide open, so you just have to give them the opportunity.”
That wasn’t an overnight switch flip for Barrett, who grew up with the notion that a receiver who didn’t look quite open was indeed not open.
“Now the mindset is different from the quarterback perspective just understanding that at times that’s as much (open) as they’re going to get,” Barrett said. “One guy hanging on his arm, it’s third-and-10, you’ve got to put it on his right shoulder … and give him the chance to make the catch.”