By Mitch Stacy
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS — With just three returning starters on his offense, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is thankful two of them happen to be quarterback J.T. Barrett and veteran offensive lineman Pat Elflein, who will start at center.
After losing most of his offensive weapons — most notably running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receivers Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall — and three offensive linemen, Meyer will look to his starting battery to lead the inexperienced team. Barrett and Elflein have been named team captains for the 2016 season, along with middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan.
“If you were trying to break in a new quarterback and a new center, you probably have no shot,” Meyer said Tuesday after the team’s third practice of the spring. “The fact that these two guys are back, we have a shot. I think we have a decent shot of being good on offense, and it’s mostly due to those two guys coming back.”
Barrett enters spring practice as the undisputed starter at quarterback for the first time. The redshirt junior, the only QB on the roster with any game experience, became the starter in early in 2014 when Braxton Miller was injured, and went 11-1 before he hurt his ankle and yielded to Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes to the national championship. Last year at this time, Barrett and Jones were locked in one of the most intriguing quarterback derbies in the nation. Barrett took over midseason last year for Jones, who has since left for the NFL draft.
“His value is more than running and throwing,” Meyer said. “His value is, he’s one of the best leaders we’ve ever had.”
Meyer has said redshirt freshman Joe Burrow, the 2014 Ohio Mr. Football, entered spring practice as Barrett’s backup.
On the offensive line, Elflein and Billy Price, a returning starter at guard, are the only players with game experience from last year’s 12-1 team. Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson are expected to compete at H-Back. Noah Brown and Corey Smith are returning from injuries at wide receiver, and Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell, James Clark and Johnnie Dixon are expected to be in the mix.
The Buckeyes’ defense will be inexperienced also. Besides McMillan, only cornerback Gareon Conley and defensive end Tyquan Lewis return from among the 2015 starters. Immediate concerns include plugging the immense hole on the defensive line left by the departing Joey Bosa, and accounting for the loss of Eli Apple and Vonn Bell in the secondary.
The only sure thing is that the Buckeyes have a lot more work to do before the opener Sept. 3 against Bowling Green, and there will be a lot of unfamiliar names in the starting lineup. Practice will culminate in the spring game April 16.
“There are some guys who haven’t done a whole lot who are going to play, so the pressure is on them now,” Meyer said.
NO FLORIDA TRIP?: Meyer said taking the team to Florida to practice during spring break is not something he’s considering right now, contrary to some media reports. Questions arose after Jim Harbaugh took his Michigan team to Bradenton for a week of practice at IMG Academy, and in an interview Meyer seemed to be considering the idea. He downplayed it on Tuesday. “We look into everything, but we wouldn’t take their free time from them,” he said. “I can’t see taking spring break away from the players.”