April 24, 2011

Analysis: Sunday QB Observation

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State spring "game" didn't feature the typical inter-squad format, but Jim Tressel was right when saying the scrimmage would offer a more competitive atmosphere to close out spring football.

Without the squad being evenly split after a draft, the scrimmage features the first team offense against the first team defense, offering the fans a chance to see the best players on both sides of the ball face off against one another.

Tressel alluded to the fact that the format may not be television friendly, but another scrimmage gave us a good idea where things could stand heading into the summer and eventually fall camp.

Much like we do after regular season football games, BuckeyeGrove.com breaks down its observations from Ohio State's 90-play, spring-closing jersey scrimmage. We start with just taking a look at the quarterbacks:

  • Braxton Miller has something the other QBs don't - The highly touted quarterback recruit won the hearts of all Ohio State fans when he orchestrated a scrimmage-high 92-yard, 14-play touchdown drive. During the drive, the freshman quarterback showed off his arm while also keeping his poise and eluding pressure. In order to extend the drive, which ended in a rushing touchdown for Jordan Hall, Miller had to use something the three other quarterbacks didn't have: the ability to use his legs to get out of jams. That elusiveness by itself is immensely important and his ability to escape pressure and extend plays could be all the difference in the quarterback battle.

    Though Miller is an early-enrolled freshman, it was quite apparent that he has the talent - and more importantly the poise - to actually compete for the starting quarterback job for the Buckeyes. And he may have a chance to eventually win the job because he's the only one who offers the same thing Terrelle Pryor does, which is the ability to use his speed and athleticism to keeps plays alive with his legs while keeping his eyes down field. Players like that move the chains, and that's what the Buckeyes desperately need while Pryor is sitting out with his five-game suspension.

  • Miller could be the starter, but we need to pump the breaks a little - Tressel said in the postgame interview room that Ohio State's quarterback battle is still undecided and they'll play "who they need to," so if Miller continues to separate himself from the other quarterbacks because of his immense athleticism, he could be only the second freshman to begin the season as the starting quarterback in Ohio State history. But if you listen exactly to what Tressel said, Miller may still be far away from really competing for the job.

    Miller has been the fourth quarterback taking reps in spring practice all year, but it's really telling that he got a lot of time on Saturday with the first team offense. Whenever you have a quarterback with that much talent, its advantageous to see what they can do with the best players surrounding them. While Miller was immensely successful, Tressel said Ohio State had to really simplify what they were doing in order to keep the freshman from becoming confused. As it stands right now, its hard to believe someone in this position is leading the quarterback battle at Ohio State.

    But that makes it incredibly important Miller arrived in the spring. With 29 more practices to get Ohio State's offense down, the freshman really could be a viable option for the Buckeyes. Though there were plenty of mistakes in the scrimmage, Miller proved he was clearly the most athletic quarterback playing and is the most capable of making special plays. However, he has quite the road ahead of him if he plans on trotting out on the field first in the season opener in September.

  • Taking a look at Taylor Graham - Graham has been one of the more impressive offensive players this spring and he had perhaps the prettiest pass of the scrimmage when hitting T.Y. Williams on a 68-yard touchdown pass, which was the first fly route I have seen in a while at Ohio State thrown perfectly in stride. Graham was the second quarterback out on the field on Saturday, which was consistent in what we've seen in practice. Though he may not have officially taken over as the No. 2 option at the position, Graham has shown incredible poise in the pocket and a rocket arm.

    That's what you're going to get out of Graham if he wins the starting spot. Ohio State may take shots down field with the redshirt freshman, but you're going to have a pure pocket passer in a very pro-style offense given his lack of elusiveness. Graham suffered a lot from what Miller was able to avoid, as the only negative Tressel pointed out about him in the press conference after the game was that he had to avoid negative plays. Far from someone who is going to break the pressure and take off for a 15-yard gain, Graham was the victim of five of Ohio State's seven sacks. Negative plays kill drives, which could really work against him in the quarterback battle in the fall.

  • Kenny Guiton's situation - Guiton stole the show in last year's spring game but he didn't quite do it this year. A week after looking shaky in a closed jersey scrimmage, Guiton actually threw the first touchdown pass of the scrimmage - a 17-yard pass to Verlon Reed in the back of the end zone.

    However, Guiton is an incredibly different position than he was last year. Guiton was the fan favorite a year ago to replace Pryor if something were to happen to the starter, but with Miller storming onto the spring in the fall, Guiton has become more of an afterthought. Guiton has left more to be desired in the last two scrimmages, but having seemingly been passed by Graham on the depth chart and Miller stealing the show on Saturday, Guiton is going to need a big spring to work himself back in as an option.

  • Joe Bauserman may have been the least effective - Regardless of what we saw out of Bauserman in the scrimmage on Saturday, the senior will enter fall camp as the leader to take over for Pryor in the first five games. Fair or not, Tressel is incredibly loyal to those who put in work over a span of four or five years to the program and he'll likely be the starting quarterback in Ohio State's season-opener. Whether or not he keeps the job as weeks progress, however, is a different story.

    The bottom line is simple - Bauserman was probably the least impressive of any of the quarterbacks on Saturday. Not able to escape pressure, make tough plays, or even move the chains, the senior showed a lot of the same things he did when he replaced Pryor in Ohio State's win at Illinois last year. Though he avoided throwing an interception, Ohio State's offense was anemic with him under center and he doesn't give the offense that explosive threat the Buckeyes are going to need to win big games in the fall without Pryor.

    Bauserman most likely knows the offense better than any of the other three quarterbacks given his experience, but it has yet to be made clear that he gives Ohio State the best chance to win. He has consistently worked with the first team this spring, but one has to worry a tad when there isn't at least one memory of Bauserman leading an extended scoring drive. It is a difficult situation, but right now it doesn't seem like Bauserman gives this team the best chance to put points on the board.

    Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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