Despite up-and-down season, J.T. Barrett sees improvement

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There were negatives, and J.T. Barrett is more than willing to admit that.

No, the Ohio State quarterback battle, a period of dealing with a rotation with Cardale Jones and endless scrutiny, wasn't easy to deal with.

No, the redshirt sophomore wasn’t playing well enough early in the season to take over the starting job, and he will take the blame for it.

And no, finishing the season in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl against No. 8 Notre Dame wasn’t what the No. 7 Buckeyes had in mind when they were the unanimous top-ranked team in the preseason and planning on defending their national title.

But there’s one more item on the list that elicits the same response. Even after an up-and-down season on and off the field, did Barrett fail to develop in his second full season for the Buckeyes and waste a year of growth? Nope.

“I did feel like I improved,” Barrett said. “I mean, it was a crazy season splitting time with Cardale, but I think the thing about it, it wasn’t always [about what happened] on the field.

“I’m not going to say it was the easiest thing in the world. Being that his number or my number can be called at any time, you just had to be ready to play and prepare like you’re the starting quarterback. I felt like we both did that, and I feel like we both still do that in every game. It wasn’t the easiest, but we made it work -- tried to do our best to make it work. And it didn’t turn out so bad.”

There were certainly enough positives that a long list of teams would undoubtedly be willing to trade spots with 11-win Ohio State this week. And plenty of quarterbacks would also like to compile 21 total touchdowns despite starting only four games.

But graded against the program’s outsized expectations and the high standard Barrett established during his first season as a starter a year ago, there were certainly times it seemed as if he had taken a step back from the level of play that produced a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race. Barrett could see that on film in August and September, as he tried to knock the rust off following his rehab from a broken ankle suffered in the regular-season finale last year while also trying to knock Jones off the top of the depth chart.

“I wasn’t playing great at the beginning of the year, and it wasn’t like I should have been the starter, you know what I’m saying?” Barrett said. “I wasn’t playing well, so that was the reason why. ... I was trying to be perfect or trying to make a crazy play and force things versus just being myself and playing relaxed. I think it did affect me at first, but I learned just to ignore that and play my game.

“Like maybe [those highlight plays] were going to separate me or something. Who makes the bigger plays instead of just who runs the offense? I was coming off the injury, too, so it was like, I’ve got to do something to get me back, I don’t know, put some spice in my life or something.”

The dishes Barrett whipped up were more than good enough a year ago, and with so many other talented ingredients on hand at the skill positions and a veteran offensive line, the Buckeyes weren’t looking for anything that out of the ordinary to spark what was expected to be the most explosive offense in the country.

Once Barrett came to terms with that prior to another game coming off the bench at Indiana, he appeared to turn a corner.

He accepted a role as a red zone quarterback and rushed for three touchdowns against Maryland. His responsibilities expanded the following week against Penn State, and he responded with four more scores. And while an off-the-field misstep followed with his arrest for operating a vehicle under the influence and he struggled again in the upset loss to Michigan State, all the adversity and the way Barrett has handled it might prove more useful down the road than if the magical beginning to his career had continued without hitting any rough patches.

“I think he’s more relaxed, I think he’s more comfortable and I think he’s playing at a high level right now,” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. “Probably his best practice of the year was yesterday when we got here, so I feel real good about where he’s at. One of the things is you can’t play well looking over your shoulder. You can’t look in the rearview mirror and figure out what’s going on; you have to look forward.

“It’s difficult when you’re used to seeing a guy play at a high level and then all of a sudden he comes back and he’s pressing a little bit. It’s like a shooting slump in basketball or a hitting slump in baseball. You know that you have a great hitter and they’re not quite there. A lot of it is just getting comfortable again, and of course J.T. missed spring ball and missed a lot of time with his injury. The rhythm and timing that he was in last season, it takes a while to get that back -- and you have to earn that right to get it back.”

At the end of a challenging year, Barrett appears to have everything back in order.

So is Ohio State fretting at all about its future at quarterback now? No.