It's never too early to start looking ahead to 2013, especially when Buckeye football and Urban Meyer are involved. Meyer's (and offensive coordinator Tom Herman's) second year running the offense should see even more improvement from last year, as the offense returns nine of 11 starters (Reid Fragel, Jake Stoneburner and the not-exactly-on-the-offense-at-season's-end Zach Boren to graduation).
The offensive line, a huge question mark coming into 2012, is now an experienced, senior-laden group. Ed Warinner is effectively a football alchemist: he took a fundamentally broken underdeveloped offensive line from the 2011 season and using effectively only the same pieces came through with not only one of the best units in the Big Ten, but possibly the country. The skill players are now all veterans as well. Overall, the Buckeye offense will be a talented, experienced unit with a few young wild cards possibly ready to play in certain situations and make an impact early.
This week, we begin our comprehensive look at what Ohio State brings to the table from a depth chart perspective in 2013, starting with the quarterback position. The QB's are pretty much set in stone as far of the top of the depth chart, with Heisman hopeful and reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller, and his principle backup, Purdue game hero, and one of the smoothest alto sax players the world has ever known, Kenny Guiton.
What is there to say about Miller? After a a year in which his growth under center far exceeded expectations (particularly with a glorified intern coaching quarterbacks in the lost 2011 season), Miller took to Urban Meyer's offense about as well as anyone could've hoped. In addition to providing head turning GIF-able moments effectively all season, Miller was quite efficient, completing 148 of 254 passes (58.3% completion) for 2039 yards through the air. He also accounted for 15 passing touchdowns while throwing only 6 interceptions. In even more of a testament to his individual skill set, Miller ran (scrambles, or designed plays) 227 total times for 1271 rushing yards and 13 TDs on the ground.
As special of a season as Miller had (he finished fifth in the overall Heisman trophy balloting), Meyer and Herman both agree he is still very much a work in progress. That completion percentage can get even higher, and Miller still sometimes seems hesitant (very much in stark contrast to the numbers he aggregated) when his reads aren't there to duck it and run until the last possible moment when he pretty much has to. With even more tutelage and seasoning, it's almost scary to think just how good Ohio State's leader can become.
Following a horrific injury against Purdue, Miller shocked basically everyone by emerging from Ohio State medical center (where he was taken in an ambulance) and playing the very next weekend at Penn State. But in the interim, Ohio State needed a miracle trailing late against unheralded Purdue. Enter Kenny Guiton. Every time Miller suffered a hard tackle or was dinged up and needed a breather, Guiton had come in (often cold) and played with marked composure. Even in a situation that necessitated heroics, Guiton didn't break from this mold. Leading a drive for the ages, Guiton helped rally Ohio State to a dramatic 29-22 overtime victory over the Boilermakers.
Entering his final year of eligibility, there isn't exactly a burden of high expectations on Guiton. For now, his goal is to continue getting better while also helping serve the team however he can. Given his body of work (and permanent place in Ohio State lore), this shouldn't be much of an issue. Guiton can continue working hard both on and off the field, and everything goes according to form, could have a chance for an NFL team to take a flyer on him in a later round, not unlike what the Kansas City Chiefs did with quarterback Matt Cassel, who had spent a career in a backup role at USC.
Highly touted incoming freshman J.T. Barrett was thought by some as recently as this past August to potentially be in the mix for the third quarterback slot, even long before Cardale Jones expressed his dissatisfaction about the state of post-secondary education with respect to the amateur athletic industrial complex. Barrett is very highly regarded, and had designs on graduating early from high school in December and enrolling at Ohio State (which he's since done). Unfortunately, in the midst of his senior season, Barrett suffered a brutal knee injury, believed at the time to be ligament injury yahtzee – the ACL, MCL, and meniscus were all thought to be torn.
After receiving a second opinion, however, Barrett (and Ohio State) got a slight stay in terms of their trepidations on the severity, and ultimately Barrett only had to have surgery to have the ACL repaired. Barrett went ahead and went through with his plans to enroll early anyways, thus allowing Ohio State's world class medical staff to be the ones doing the rehabilitation as he redshirts this coming fall.
When he ultimately gets back into action, Barrett is a Troy Smith-sized dual-threat recruit at 6'1 210. In his junior year at Wichita Falls River High, he rushed for 1515 yards and 7 touchdowns while throwing for 1608 yards and 14 more touchdowns, and a completion percentage of just under 70. Barrett is the kind of dual-threat Urban Meyer craves in his offense, although the 6-1 listing might be a bit generous. Though Barrett is believed to be progressing nicely in his rehab, in the extremely unlikely event he's medically fit for action this fall, it would take a string of Job-ian bad luck to befall the Buckeyes before he'd ever see the turf.
Walk-on Levi Ratliff will be a redshirt freshman this year. The last quarterback in for the Buckeyes in 2012 had offers from Air Force and Harvard last year. Not much is known about Garrett other than he was Ken Guiton's "little brother" during last year's training camp. Levi is, by and large, an unknown quantity, and given the uphill battle he faces, will realistically never do more than help Ohio State get better on the practice field (which is still considerably valuable in and of itself). Lebanon quarterback Luke Morgan is also expected to walk-on this fall, but isn't expected by anyone to do anything but redshirt and help play scout quarterback in practice.
The newly engaged Justin Siems has graduated, which opens up a spot for Cardale Jones on the depth chart. Jones may not have come to Ohio State to "play school", but he will likely not be playing much football this year, either, especially with two veterans – one of them a preseason Heisman favorite – in front of him. Most people can't see a scenario where he plays much, but Jones was said to have grown considerably from a rocky start with the Meyer staff in which many thought he might get asked to leave the program at a moment's notice. Jones is another player who's probably going to have to wait until either next season (if Miller has the kind of year that makes him consider the NFL) or 2015 to compete for any real playing time.
For good measure, in case you're wondering about trick plays/packages, we'll touch on a few recruits that played quarterback in high school also, but are not being recruited as quarterbacks. WR/ATH Jalin Marshall is one of the few Cincinnati-area recruits that attached himself to Ohio State. The Middletown star was also a dual-threat, posting similar stats to Barrett (1421 rushing yards for 14 TDs, 765 passing yards for 11 TDs and zero INT) but at 5'11, 195 is not going to be able to be a quarterback at OSU. Marshall has been playing receiver, but don't be surprised to see him throw a pass here and there on a trick play. Most observers think that Marshall will not redshirt this year, as Meyer and Tom Herman will want to see the electrifying freshman with the ball in his hand. Expect Marshall to line up some at running back, slot receiver and kick returner in camp.
The other QB recruit coming in at a different position is New Albany's Darron Lee, who discussed his recruitment briefly in this ESPN video. He played both ways, as can be seen in the highlight reel, but will be playing either linebacker or safety. At 6'2", 195, he will probably be redshirted to pack on some pounds and improve in the strength and conditioning program with famed OSU S&C coach Mick Marotti.
The quarterback spot, barring unthinkable injury, has about the least amount drama of any position going in to training camp. Next week we'll take a look at the running back corps, and see how Ohio State stands, especially in the wake of National Signing Day 2013 next Wednesday.