COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Any clarity on the future of the most important position at Ohio State was tossed aside just two plays into the second drive of its spring game.
As always, the actual results of a scrimmage in April don’t really mean anything. And, sure, there’s a danger into reading too much into the allotment of snaps for an exhibition at the Horseshoe.
But coach Urban Meyer has been clear over the years that he wants to see how the Buckeyes perform in front of crowds like the one of over 80,000 that packed Ohio Stadium this past Saturday afternoon. Which makes it telling that during the first opportunity for one of the backups to lead the offense, Meyer elected to use both of them and rotate Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins every two plays.
Both played well enough to ensure the Buckeyes will clearly still be in good shape when J.T. Barrett’s career ends after this season. But right now, it’s tough to tell just who he will be passing off the torch to when Ohio State moves on without him.
“We haven't had that [conversation] yet,” Meyer said. “I know it is very close. But I'm not prepared to say who is No. 2, who is No. 3, et cetera, yet.”
The Buckeyes can skip over the top spot, where Barrett remains entrenched as the unquestioned starter heading into his senior season. And despite getting hit in the pocket once to disrupt a pass that was intercepted, the veteran looked sharp while completing 8 of his 12 throws with a touchdown in a short outing before spending the rest of the afternoon standing next to Meyer and watching the intriguing battle to back him up unfold.
Both Burrow and Haskins made compelling cases that they are more than capable of leading Ohio State’s power-spread attack. Burrow, who came in with the edge in experience and at least was given the first snaps on that second drive, delivered the ball accurately and efficiently in throwing for 262 yards and three scores to lead the Scarlet to the scrimmage victory. But Haskins matched him with three touchdowns of his own, hitting on 26 of his 37 attempts and finishing with 293 yards after eventually switching teams and taking over for Barrett on the Gray.
There is certainly no reason for Meyer to rush to a decision about his depth chart this early in the year, particularly since the Buckeyes still have a whole training camp looming in August. But even with a clear-cut starter returning for the fall, the eventual call figures to be significant since it will send a clear signal about who Ohio State believes will be next in line for 2018 -- even if that’s not the primary focus for a team already chasing a national title right now.
“I think it’s definitely close,” Haskins said. “It’s up to the coaches to decide who they want to be No. 2. But I think I’ve done everything that I possibly could do during the spring to show what I can do.
“They haven’t given me a timeline or set a time when they want to announce it. It’s a backup role, and the most important player is the starter. So right now, we’re just competing and getting each other better going into fall camp.”
Once it arrives, the attention on both of them and the urgency to sort out a pecking order will increase. And it might also even include true freshman Tate Martell after he flashed some athleticism during his late-scrimmage cameo, although he appears to have plenty of ground to make up based on how extensively the Buckeyes worked Haskins and Burrow on Saturday.
Nobody at Ohio State has to be reminded the importance of the backup roles, especially not with Barrett still around and Cardale Jones popping by the Horseshoe to flash his arm strength at halftime. Once upon a time, they were competing to take the reins for Braxton Miller -- and for both of them, that moment actually arrived before it was supposed to on the way to a championship.
The message for Haskins and Burrow: Get ready.
“I thought we played really well this spring,” Burrow said. “We got a lot better. Obviously the focus on deep balls this spring was high, and I think we got a lot better, lot more accurate this spring.
“I’m just going to keep getting better, do what I can do, control what I can control and it will all work out eventually.”
The Buckeyes can sort out the exact details later. For now, it looks like Ohio State will be in good hands either way.