Ohio State begins spring football practice Thursday with the coaching staff set to watch four quarterbacks use 15 days to prove who is worthy of handling the starter’s role for five games this fall.
“There will be days one person steps to the front and days when another doesn’t, but I think repetitions are huge and there will be some opportunities,” head coach Jim Tressel said last month. “How do I see it coming out? I have no idea.”
While Tressel is no stranger to spring quarterback battles, he has probably never seen one quite like this.
Returning starter Terrelle Pryor, a senior and three-year starter, is likely out because of January surgery to fix an ankle injury suffered as he was wrapping up an MVP performance in the Sugar Bowl, but it’s an absence scheduled for later in the year that makes this spring so intriguing in Columbus.
Pryor is suspended for the first five games of the regular season for accepting illegal benefits, so four players will spend the better part of April working on earning the right to replace him.
Senior Joe Bauserman joined the team for spring practice in 2007 and has served as Pryor’s backup the past two seasons. That probably earned the 6-1, 233-pound senior the right to take the first snap with the starters in the spring, but where he ends up on the depth chart is far from guaranteed.
Bauserman has adequate mobility and a strong arm, but his decision-making and his accuracy tended to be erratic during open practices the past two years as well as during mop-up time last year.
Nipping at Bauserman’s heels last spring was Kenny Guiton, a Texas native who will be a third-year sophomore this season.
Gution came to Columbus as a raw prospect but has impressed the coaches with his enthusiasm to learn the tricks of the college quarterback trade. He showed some wheels on a 15-yard touchdown run against Eastern Michigan last season, and he throws a catchable ball, but questions remain if he has the talent to be an elite player.
Redshirt freshman Taylor Graham has the pedigree - his father, Kent, played at Ohio State from 1990-91 before an 11-year career in the NFL - but lacks experience because of various injuries that limited his practice time during his last two high school seasons and his freshman Buckeye campaign.
The 6-4, 225-pound Graham fits the mold of classic dropback passer, but that might not fit the Ohio State offense as it has evolved during Tressel’s time in Columbus.
Mobility is a must, and Tressel has proven to prefer a player who can make things happen on runs both by design and as a matter of last resort.
The latest member to enter the quarterback race proved last season at Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne he can work magic with his feet as he carried his team to the Division I state championship game, but Braxton Miller is far from just a runner.
Blessed with a powerful arm and a quick release, Miller most likely has the highest upside of the quarterbacks eligible to start the season under center, and enrolling in time for spring practice figures to give him a shot at doing just that.
“He’s certainly got a great potential as a dual-threat guy,” offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. “I think it could be neat for him that he doesn’t have to be the main running attack like he was in high school. He can focus more on his passing game. We all know he can run, so that’s good.”
Quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano acknowledged getting the chance to go through 15 days of spring practices gives Miller a leg up over the typical freshman, but he was not ready to speculate on how repetitions will be divvied up.
“I think we’ll start with splitting the reps equally and then adjust accordingly to how we feel we need to as the spring progresses,” he said.