Speaking about his plans to minimize Braxton Miller's rushing attempts this season, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman conceded that the two-time Big Ten MVP's legs would always be a part of the Buckeyes' arsenal.
"Whatever it takes to win," Herman said of Miller's designed runs. "We know that they'll always be there in our back pocket."
That, however, is no longer the case in Columbus, as Herman and head coach Urban Meyer find themselves searching for new plays to fill their pockets. Out is Miller, who will miss the entirety of the 2014 season with a reported torn labrum, per Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, and in is redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who brings a different skill set to Ohio State's quarterback position.
Just how much will the OSU offense change with Barrett behind center for the Buckeyes? We won't know for sure until Aug. 30. But we've seen enough in select practices and picked up as many clues from coaches to know to expect a different approach from the Ohio State offense when it takes the field for its season opener against Navy in 10 days.
More Runs From The Runners, Less Designed Runs
When Miller's status was still unclear a week ago, Meyer admitted that the Buckeyes would need to rely on their run game more if their star signal-caller wasn't yet full-go. And with a quarterback who's yet to take a single snap in his college career, one would imagine that mindset won't change, as Ohio State's passing game is anything but proven at this point.
That could prove to be problematic, however, as the Buckeyes' rushing attack isn't exactly experienced either. Gone are Big Ten Running Back of the Year Carlos Hyde and four multi-year starters on the offensive line, replaced by a stable of talented—albeit unproven—young players.
As far as the quarterback's role in running the ball, Barrett is hardly the home-run threat that Miller's been for the past three seasons, but an efficient runner nonetheless. He's also been the Buckeyes' most impressive decision-maker in the zone-read game this offseason, a skill that Miller has struggled with as he's shown a propensity for telegraphing his runs.
What Barrett makes up for in decision-making he loses in designed runs, as Miller's signature quarterback counters will likely disappear from the Buckeyes' playbook in the coming year. For that reason alone, the running backs should shoulder the load of the OSU run game, although opposing defenses could make Barrett prove what he's capable of on the ground.
Nevertheless, expect to hear names like Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Curtis Samuel early and often for the Buckeyes this season—especially in their debut against the Midshipmen. Both facets of the Ohio State offense may be unproven, but like legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes once said, there are three things that can happen when you throw the ball—and two of them are bad.
When it comes to arm strength, Barrett is no Miller, nor is he even fellow signal-caller Cardale Jones. But that's no secret to Herman, who's well aware of his new starting quarterback's physical shortcomings.
"We've gotta work on strengthening his arm," Herman admitted. "He's a distant third behind Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall."
So gone will be deep balls from the Buckeyes quarterback, perhaps attempts that would have predominately been targeted for senior speedster Devin Smith. But what Barrett lacks in power, he makes up for in accuracy, which could ultimately prove for a more well-rounded attack in the OSU passing game.
"He gets the ball out quickly, is very efficient. Smooth release. Very accurate," Herman said of Barrett. "Extremely cerebral."
One player in particular who could benefit from Barrett's insertion into the starting lineup is wide receiver/running back Dontre Wilson, who came to Ohio State expected to play the "Percy Harvin role" in Meyer's offense. With dinks and dunks expected to be in the new bread and butter of the Buckeyes offensive approach, look for a lot of them to land in the arms of Wilson, as well as senior tight end Jeff Heuerman.
"We're a little bit better than we were the past two years in terms of skill," Meyer told ESPN's Mike & Mike radio show. "We have a handful of guys where if you make one mistake, that could be a big play for the Buckeyes."
A More Systematic Approach
Truth be told, Ohio State's offense may look more like what Meyer envisions for his spread attack with Barrett calling the shots rather than Miller. Sure, Miller is one of the most unique players in college football, but his talents have made the Buckeyes look one-dimensional at times as they've often relied too heavily on his legs and big-play ability.
That shouldn't be the case with Barrett, with Meyer conceding that his top priority will be to spread the ball around. Asked on Mike & Mike how the OSU offense would be different without Miller in the lineup, Meyer pointed to the approach that the Buckeyes took when Kenny Guiton replaced Miller for the better part of three games a season ago.
"We changed a little bit like we did when Kenny Guiton was in there. Kenny Guiton was distributor," Meyer said. "We do a lot of the management throws, especially with a young quarterback."
That's not necessarily a bad thing, as evidenced by the combined 643 yards and 12 touchdowns that Guiton threw for in the three games where he took the majority of Ohio State's snaps. And while Herman isn't ready to put Barrett on Guiton's level just yet, he has confidence in his new starter's ability, which is one reason while Columbus hasn't been all doom and gloom over the last 48 hours.
"At the end of the day, the offense moves when he’s in," Herman said of Barrett. "That's the sign of a good one."
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.
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