By Mitch Stacy
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS — J.T. Barrett has packed a lot into his two seasons as a quarterback at Ohio State. There has been high drama, personal accolades and exhilarating glory, but also heartbreaking injury, disappointment and humiliation.
With all that behind him, the 21-year-old Texan entered spring drills this year for the first time as the healthy, undisputed starter at quarterback. For the first spring in Columbus, he’s not slowed by an injury or battling someone else for the job.
“He’s having a great spring,” coach Urban Meyer said Monday. “We’re changing some things on him that we felt fundamentally he wasn’t where he needed to be last year, for whatever reason. He’s a fast player, and we need him to play as fast as he can.”
Barrett, who’s 15-2 as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback and will be a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, acknowledged he still has considerable work ahead.
“I just want to keep on building mentally, being more of a student of the game and helping myself in that aspect,” he said. “I think I’m heading in the right direction. I don’t believe I’m where I want to be or where I need to be.”
Barrett became the starter in fall camp 2014 after Braxton Miller, the two-time Big Ten player of the year, re-injured his shoulder and was lost for the season. Barrett was stellar, going 11-1 and breaking Ohio State records until he broke his ankle in the Michigan game. That opened the door for Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes to three straight wins and a national championship.
After a nationally watched quarterback derby, Jones was named the starter as the 2015 season opened but was benched in favor of Barrett after seven games. The Buckeyes stumbled against Michigan State, which put them outside the playoff picture, but Barrett led them past Michigan and then Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
A week after regaining the starting QB job in November, Barrett drew unwanted national attention when he was pulled over by police for driving under the influence. He pleaded guilty and publicly apologized. Meyer suspended him for a game, but supported him.
Barrett, who again will be a Buckeyes captain, said he’s a better player this year due in large part to experience. That will pay off this fall when he’s surrounded by young, inexperienced receivers still learning to run the pass routes.
“The game slows down as you keep on playing,” he said. “I think that’s something that has just definitely helped me. My redshirt freshman year (2014) it was like, get the play and run it, really no thinking. If I started to think, that’s how I started to play slow and start messing up,…whereas now, I’m able to see it, things are moving slower for me.”
Quarterbacks coach Tim Beck said he and Barrett have spent spring practice working on the details and dialing up the tempo of the offense.
“The biggest thing right now is just getting him to play fast, getting him to play consistent, kind of how he did toward the end of the year and in 2014,” Beck said. “I like what I see so far out of him.”
Redshirt freshman Joe Burrow and redshirt sophomore Stephen Collier will be Barrett’s backups.
SPRING GAME: Meyer said the team’s youth and inexperience makes Saturday’s spring game especially important because it allows players to be evaluated in front of a large, loud crowd inside Ohio Stadium. The game drew close to 100,000 fans last year, and Meyer said he’s hoping for a throng like that on Saturday. “The value this year is probably greater than our four years here, so see how these young players respond,” he said.