COLUMBUS — A three-way quarterback derby promises to lend some intrigue to Ohio State’s spring practice that opened on Tuesday morning.
Other key position battles will take place in the preseason, but none will be more talked about than the competition that could determine the Buckeyes’ starter under center for the next two or three seasons.
Dwayne Haskins Jr. has to be the favorite to replace four-year starter J.T. Barrett as the competition begins. He was the backup to Barrett last year and rallied the Buckeyes to a win over Michigan after Barrett was hurt.
Haskins, who will be a red-shirt sophomore in the fall, is a traditional drop-back quarterback with a cannon for a right arm. He’ll be pushed by Joe Burrow, a red-shirt junior who went into fall camp last season as Barrett’s backup but was supplanted when he broke his hand before the season started.
Add the flashy, dual-threat Tate Martell to the mix, too. Red-shirted in his first season, Martell made a name for himself running the scout team, with upper-class teammates often commenting about his obvious skills.
“We all know Dwayne kind of finished the season and finished it strong against the team up north,” Meyer said Tuesday. “Joe, before his injury, was neck and neck. We’re trying to do the best we can to make sure they have equal opportunity to compete, and I’m going to throw Tate Martell’s name in there, too. He’s earned the right to compete.”
It will be difficult for Meyer to keep all three on the roster long-term. Burrow, who is on track to graduate in May, could potentially transfer and be eligible to play next season if the competition does not go his way this spring.
Burrow is from Athens, Ohio, where his father is defensive coordinator for Frank Solich at Ohio University.
Meyer acknowledged that possibility and said he will try to give Burrow an assessment after spring practice so he can act accordingly.
“I’d love to have them both in the fall and have them keep battling it out like that,” he said. “We’ve had that before here, and I just think it keeps people on pins and needles.”
But first the three will face off in 13 scheduled workouts that culminate in the annual Scarlet and Gray scrimmage on April 14 at Ohio Stadium, putting them in the spotlight before as many as 100,000 fans.
The quarterback derby is the first since Barrett battled Cardale Jones before the 2015 season. Jones was chosen as the starter, but Barrett won the job by mid-season and became the owner of most school throwing and scoring records. Barrett, preparing for the NFL draft, was on the sideline with other former players at the opening of practice Tuesday.
“Miss him dearly, but life moves on,” Meyer said.
Ohio State, which just missed the College Football Playoff last season, also opens the spring with two new coaches, Alex Grinch and Taver Johnson. Grinch, a former assistant at Washington State, will coach safeties and be co-defensive coordinator. Johnson, a former Ohio State assistant, returns to coach cornerbacks, replacing Kerry Coombs, who left to be an assistant with the Tennessee Titans.
“To be around an elite group of coaches and an elite leadership, that doesn’t happen very often,” Grinch said last week. “I’ve been in it long enough to appreciate it, and so absolutely, selfishly, awfully excited to be able to work for and work with this staff.”
Ohio State opens the 2018 season Sept. 1 at home against Oregon State.
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