Last year, Urban Meyer had quite an enviable quarterback conundrum on his hands. He had three talented, experienced options at quarterback, any one of which seemed capable of leading Ohio State to national-championship contention.
This year? Well, let's just say there's a much, much smaller margin for error — and it just got smaller.
J.T. Barrett will undoubtedly be the starter this season, something Meyer didn't settle on until the middle of last season. But behind Barrett things just got much trickier, as backup Stephen Collier will reportedly miss the upcoming season after tearing his ACL.
Meyer's plethora of options is gone, as both Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller have moved on to the NFL. Barrett, meanwhile, looks capable of being one of the best quarterbacks in college football, as he was two seasons ago, when he finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy. And with a full season at his disposal — Meyer waffled between Jones and Barrett for much of last season — the redshirt junior appears primed for a massive campaign.
But he'll have to stay on the field or the Buckeyes' hopes might be doomed.
Two years ago, Barrett played a remarkable regular season but suffered an ankle injury in the season finale, requiring Jones to come in and surprisingly lead the march to a national championship in three postseason starts. Last year, Jones started several games before Meyer tabbed Barrett, but Barrett still missed a game after being named starter due to suspension.
Backup quarterbacks have proven especially valuable to the Buckeyes in the past three seasons under Meyer. Last year there was the safety net of Barrett when Jones struggled. The year before, both Barrett and Jones impressed when thrust into starting duty because of injuries to Miller and Barrett, respectively. And the year prior, Kenny Guiton was sensational in limited action as Miller's backup, throwing 14 touchdown passes.
Collier was expected to battle redshirt freshman Joe Burrow for the gig backing up Barrett, but he's obviously out of the mix now, leaving Burrow as the only other scholarship player on the quarterback depth chart behind Barrett. Four-star quarterback recruit Dwayne Haskins will join the team as an incoming freshman this summer. And perhaps redshirt freshman Torrance Gibson could move back to quarterback. Gibson was a five-star quarterback recruit last year before the log jam at the position forced a move to wide receiver. But he's still listed as a "quarterback/wide receiver" on Ohio State's roster, so a switch back could be possible.
None of those guys have played a down of college football before, but Burrow and Gibson both have the same level of experience and redshirt-freshman designation that Barrett had when he took over for Miller and led the Buckeyes during the 2014 title-winning season.
Overshadowed in the aftershocks of the Bears’ release of veteran guard Matt Slauson (and safety Antrel Rolle) was another roster trim this offseason that went largely ignored because four days earlier, the Matt Forte non-return had gone down. That was the release of Jermon Bushrod, as much a fixture for two years at left tackle as Slauson was at left guard.
Probably because Bushrod had been replaced by Charles Leno Jr. last season as the starter, Bushrod’s exit had been expected since mid-year as he struggled with injuries. Bushrod had voiced his own farewell address late in the season.
But Bushrod, as with Slauson, was a core member of a group that arguably needs to be closer-knit than any other position group. Bushrod and Slauson were mentors to Kyle Long and to even Leno as he was replacing Bushrod, if anyone needs a character testimonial.
While coaches and GM Ryan Pace are on record stating that the best five offensive linemen will start, which points to positions for each being determined through this offseason, that also demands cohesion, which the group had with Bushrod and Slauson.
Bears history is replete with solid centers who anchored and fused lines together: Jay Hilgenberg, Jerry Fontenot, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza, even Bulldog Turner and Mike Pyle, looking further back. One key was that each was the best lineman in the group, or close to the best. That makes leading easier, when you’re secure and very good.
Hroniss Grasu is neither at this point of his career. Manny Ramirez is a new guy and on a one-year deal at age 33. Meaning: Who is the linchpin of an offensive line on whom the healths of Jay Cutler, Jeremy Langford and others rest? Kyle Long is the Bears’ best offensive lineman and a force in more ways that just talent-wise.
The challenge for the Bears projects to be less finding talent to replace Slauson in particular, but finding the individual and collective character to make the whole thing work. This is about more than just the 2016 season.
The White Sox aim for win No. 20 in their series finale against the Boston Red Sox tonight on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.
Today’s starting pitching matchup: Henry Owens (0-0) vs. Erik Johnson (0-0)
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