By MITCH STACY
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Can Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett become a better passer?
That’s the overarching question at preseason training camp as the fifth-year star works with yet another new offensive coordinator and position coach.
Barrett arguably is the best quarterback to ever play at Ohio State, but his issues with accuracy and decision-making — along with inconsistent play from receivers and the offensive line — contributed to the team’s failings in big games last year, especially the 31-0 loss to Clemson in the playoffs.
New quarterbacks coach Ryan Day was assigned to work with Barrett on accuracy, placement of passes and throwing into coverage. Ohio State practices are closed to media, but those who have watched Barrett in preseason camp note his improvement.
“His accuracy and just his energy level right now is incredible,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s providing that energy for everybody. He’s always done that, but I can tell that he’s got complete ownership of everything going on in that offense.”
Barrett has been working with Day on taking more risks and trying to give receivers a chance to get their hands on the ball, instead of tucking and running when nobody appears to be open. Barrett was sent on the run a lot last year when protection broke down. His receivers are mostly unproven but are expected to be better.
“Those guys are not going to always be just wide open, so you have to give them the opportunity to touch the ball,” Barrett said. “Sometimes they’re going to have to make some catches for you, and there are going to be some ugly throws and it’s not going to be perfect, but the simple fact is that you allow those guys to touch the ball and let have a chance to go make plays.”
Barrett passed for 2,555 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2016 and also ran for 845 yards. While the latter number is impressive, his carries often resulted from him scrambling to make something out of nothing. Meyer wants to rely less on Barrett’s feet.
“That’s not an indication things are going well,” Meyer said.
Day, who last worked as an NFL assistant for the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, likes Barrett’s progress.
“I’m proud of the command he’s had of the offense and the quick decision-making he’s shown in practice,” Day said. “The ball’s coming out of his hand quickly, he’s confident in what he’s doing, his eyes are right. So the ball’s coming out on time right now, and you can tell that he has a rhythm about him when he’s playing the position.”
The 22-year-old Texan’s name is all over Ohio State record books. He holds all-time marks for career pass completions, touchdowns, passing yards per game, total offense and touchdowns responsible for. This season he’s expected to become the school’s leader in passing yards. He’s 26-4 as a starter.
But college football’s collective memory is short. The last anybody saw of Barrett was him leading the floundering Ohio State offense against Clemson. Over the winter, fans on social media and talk radio wanted to push him aside and give backup Joe Burrow — or even heralded true freshman Tate Martell — a chance. To his teammates, that suggestion couldn’t be more ridiculous.
“People try to be down on him, but he’s such a good dude, a good QB,” receiver Johnnie Dixon said. “He’s a hard worker so I don’t understand that sometimes….I think it’s bizarre, because you see J.T. and yeah, he’s got every record in the book, but at the end of the day that never gets to his head. He’s a worker.”