As we like to say in the social media business, J.T. Barrett is trending.
For those who aren’t plugged into any of a million or so websites where sensible people gobble up, regurgitate, mix, photograph, video and do anything else they can with information about a topic that might be as impactful as a cat who can play the piano, that means that Ohio State’s redshirt freshman quarterback is on everybody’s minds.
With the first report about starting quarterback Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury, Barrett went from a tiny line of type on the Buckeyes’ depth chart to a guy some fans talked about as if they had known him all their lives.
“Urban says that J.T. will be fine,” a dog walker told me the other day.
It would have been mean to ask if he knew the names behind his good friend’s initials. But the quest for knowledge about the Buckeyes’ new main man — and make no mistake about it, the starting quarterback is the main man, even if he is untested — doesn’t really do much to advance the cause of this sudden hysteria.
Everybody wants to know how Barrett will do as he replaces Miller, and nobody, including Barrett himself, knows the answer. For that reason, the smart fan is the one who treats all of this noise like so much static and waits for the games so he can see for himself.
Coach Urban Meyer weighed in on Barrett with the media on Wednesday, and he didn’t scream “Fire!”
Young coaches learn to avoid the hysterical approach in Coaching 101. Meyer’s analysis didn’t make it sound like Barrett is going to take Miller’s place near the top of the Heisman Trophy race — “The best quarterbacks are great distributors; my initial evaluation of J.T. is that he’s very good at that” — but he tried to build the trust of Barrett’s teammates and bolster their spirits.
The three Buckeyes who were made available to reporters also expressed confidence in Barrett’s ability, which is nice but of little use to anyone who is genuinely trying to make sense of the situation.
If one of Barrett’s teammates, particularly players hand-picked by Meyer and the school’s sports information staff to meet with reporters, had expressed even the slightest doubt in their new starting quarterback, it would have been a bigger upset than Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson.
Reporters have to ask. That doesn’t mean they are going to get totally truthful answers. Good teammates support their teammates, which might mean saying they think somebody is ready to step in and lead — even if they aren’t sure. They are also going to give a new guy the benefit of every doubt, which they should. His success is their success. They are all in this together.
There are two sides to this. When analyst Danny Kanell said on ESPN radio that he had visited an Ohio State practice before Miller returned and said “it was one of the worst practices I’ve ever seen as far as quarterback play,” we don’t know if he were engaging in a little hyperbole for the show (“ Fire!”) or whether he believes that.
Saying that Barrett and recently replaced backup Cardale Jones did a decent job isn’t news. A quote about how terrible they are gets a lot more attention — hey, you’re reading it here — but it only adds to the static.
Quotes from a player’s high-school coach are in the same category. Other than a player’s parents, a kid’s high-school coach might be the least objective person on the planet. If a coach says a player is the best he has ever coached, believe it. Just don’t believe it has anything to do with how he will perform against Navy.
All of us will get the true answer to that question at the same time. Until then, our time is better spent watching a piano-playing cat.
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.