Ohio State football director of performance Mickey Marotti had a nickname for J.T. Barrett well before he was elevated to No. 1 quarterback in place of injured Braxton Miller this week.
“The distributor,” cornerback Doran Grant said yesterday, referring to the way Barrett gets the ball to players all over the field. “That’s a good name for him, because he’s doing what he has to do.”
His teammates don’t want Barrett to think he has to be the second coming of Miller, whose remarkable running ability set him apart the past three years and gained him national acclaim. The offense is going to look a little different under Barrett, a redshirt freshman. Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman reminded him that’s as it should be.
“I was talking to him the other day, ‘You don’t have to do anything different. Just be yourself,’ ” Heuerman said. “We’re behind him 100 percent.”
Which leads back to “the distributor.” Coach Urban Meyer believes there is a deeper set of potential playmakers available to the quarterback this season than in the previous two, ranging from running backs Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn to hybrid backs Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall to the tight ends, including Nick Vannett, to a posse of wide receivers led by Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and Johnnie Dixon.
What Miller brought to the offense was about 100 yards above what the team generated through the regular running and passing attacks, Meyer calculated. He challenged the players — not just Barrett and backup quarterback Cardale Jones — to make up the deficit by sharing the load.
“It’s kind of exciting (for them), because if I’m a young player, that might be four more touches I get in a game,” Meyer said.
Fewer quarterback runs are likely to be called for Barrett than would have been for Miller, Meyer said. But if Barrett plays “the distributor” role for which he has shown a proficiency in practice, Meyer said, the yards will come.
“Some of the best quarterbacks are great distributors,” Meyer said. “I watch Peyton Manning play, and I am in awe of the way he distributes the ball around. I thought Kenny Guiton (OSU’s backup quarterback the past two years) was one of the best around as far as getting the ball out rather quickly and distributing it to the playmakers and let them run with the ball, let them make plays.
“My initial evaluation of J.T. is he’s very good at that. … The good thing is the pieces around him are — I don’t want to give them too much credit (yet), but I’m hoping he can throw some short balls and they turn into long gains. We haven’t had much of that around here.”
Heuerman indicated that the players are ready to follow the lead of Barrett, who was the only freshman member of the team’s leadership council a year ago.
“He’s a great leader; he’s super smart and a hard worker,” Heuerman said. “That was the case before this happened. I think everyone looked up to him before this event even happened. He was always finishing first in the quarterback runs over summer. He was finishing first before the tight ends, the linebackers, the big skill (players), all the time.
“He handles his business and does everything right. And we have full confidence in him, full trust.”