COLUMBUS — There is no way to overemphasize quarterback J.T. Barrett’s importance for Ohio State this football season.
Urban Meyer’s nightmares probably include seeing what Ohio State’s passing game would look like with an inexperienced back-up quarterback throwing to mostly underachieving veterans and first-year starters at wide receiver.
Thinking about Ohio State’s running game in the post-Ezekiel Elliott era without Barrett also would give Meyer chills.
Obviously, Barrett has been off limits to Ohio State’s defensive players during spring practice, which wraps up on Saturday with the annual spring game at Ohio Stadium.
No complaints from the defense about that. No one wants to be the guy who hurts the No. 1 quarterback. No one wants to spend all of June, July and most of August running the stadium steps.
If Meyer could request a Secret Service detail to surround his quarterback he’d probably do it, though he might have messed up any possibility of that happening when he endorsed a Republican in the Ohio primary.
Right now, the No. 2 quarterback behind Barrett is redshirt freshman Joe Burrow. After him, it’s uncertain. It might be incoming freshman Dwayne Haskins.
Even though Barrett was the first-team All-Big Ten quarterback in 2014 and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, this is the first spring he has been the undisputed No. 1 quarterback at Ohio State.
A torn ACL halfway through his senior season in high school kept him on the sidelines in the spring of 2013 after he enrolled early at OSU in January.
In 2014, he and Cardale Jones took lots of snaps in spring practice. But until Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury in August, Barrett and Jones thought they were preparing to be the back-up, not the starting quarterback.
Barrett was spectacular as Miller’s replacement, throwing for 2,834 yards and a school-record 34 touchdown passes. He also rushed for 938 yards before a broken ankle in the Michigan game ended his season.
Last year, he lost the starting job to postseason super-hero Jones, possibly at least partly because of the lingering effects of the ankle injury. But it wasn’t until Barrett got the starting job back late in the season that Ohio State’s offense began to live up to expectations, with the exception of the Michigan State game.
At the end of last season, Meyer said OSU needs to throw the ball more and play faster this season.
Those are two of the things Barrett has worked on this spring even though the top four returning veteran receivers — Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown, Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson — are not participating in spring drills and he has often found himself working behind a very inexperienced offensive line.
Barrett says he has worked on his mechanics — things like his footwork and delivery of the ball — even though many of the players who will be in the lineup with him in the fall aren’t on the field now.
“I just want to keep on building mentally, being more of a student of the game and helping myself in that aspect,” Barrett said.
“I think I’m heading in the right direction. I don’t believe I’m where I want to be or where I need to be. But I think it’s one of those deals where you just take it a day at a time and that’s all I’m trying to do.
“I can only focus on what I control. I just want to be a better version of myself,” he said.
Quarterbacks coach Tim Beck says that better version of Barrett starts with playing fast.
“The biggest thing is to get him to play fast, play consistent, kind of how he did toward the end of last year and in 2014. I like what I’ve seen so far,” Beck said.
Actually, that is probably only the second-biggest thing OSU can hope for from Barrett, after staying healthy.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau