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Manziel would be third-string behind Barrett and Jones? STOP

Sep 04, 2015 -- 7:56am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

A significant portion of the Browns' fan base disliked Johnny Manziel before he arrived as the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

They never wanted him here, and now they share company with another sizeable share of Browns Nation put off by Johnny's floating swan, dust-up at The Nine, face-plant of a rookie year or stint in rehab.

Any of all of that disdain can be justified, but the vitriol overflows the boundaries of good sense when it intersects with the worship of all things Ohio State football.

If you want to denigrate Manziel for being too entitled, too short, too weak-armed, too prone to leave the pocket or just for wearing the No. 2 jersey, go ahead.

But stop with the nonsensical, "Johnny Manziel would be third-team behind J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones on the Ohio State depth chart."

Manziel was a consensus All-American in the Southeastern Conference, the deepest and best college football conference in the country, as a redshirt freshman. That year, 2012, he became the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy.

Texas A&M started that season unranked in both The Associated Press and USA Today polls. There were six SEC teams in the AP Top 25 and seven SEC teams in the coaches poll to start that year, so no one expected much from the Aggies or Manziel.

He led A&M to an 11-2 record, its best winning percentage in 18 seasons, with its only losses by three points against Florida and five points against LSU. A&M won its last six games, including upset victories at No. 17 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama in consecutive weeks, and a 41-13 rout of No. 12 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

Manziel clearly transformed Texas A&M into something it had never been, elevating the program above in-state, traditional powerhouse Texas.

This would be the equivalent of Gunner Kiel at Cincinnati powering the Bearcats to a No. 5 finish in the final polls, supplanting Ohio State as the state's recognized power.

Neither Barrett nor Jones, as good as they've been, have accomplished anything as remotely transformational at Ohio State as Manziel did at Texas A&M.

Barrett set 17 records and two Big Ten marks last season, including a new mark for combined touchdowns passing and rushing that belonged to Drew Brees.

Barrett had a great year, rushing for 5.5 yards per-carry and 11 touchdowns, while completing 65% of his passes for 2,834 yards, 34 TDs and 10 interceptions.

Manziel rushed for 7 yards per-carry, 1,410 yards overall, and 21 TDs. He completed 68% of his passes for 3,700 yards and 26 scores, against nine picks.

Barrett threw one more interception on 120 fewer passing attempts than Manziel in their respective first years as starters.

It is ludicrous to argue that Barrett faced anywhere close to as tough a competition in the Big Ten as Manziel did in the SEC.

And we're talking here about Manziel as a freshman, not as a sophomore when he was older and wiser.

His rushing numbers went down (5.3 per-carry, 9 TDs) as a sophomore, but he still had to be respected as a ballcarrier.

Passing, Manziel threw for 4,114 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a sophomore, when his completion percentage climbed to 69.9 percent.

Jones was great during OSU's three-game run to the national championship last year, but you can't seriously compare Jones to a Heisman Trophy winner who accounted for 11 yards shy of 10,000 yards total offense in two seasons in the SEC.

If you won't believe me, maybe the opinions of some nationally-known college football analysts/commentators will convince you.

I texted the following to some friends who cover the sport:

"Soliciting opinions on this wild view among OSU/Cleveland Browns fans that Manziel would be third-team QB at OSU behind Barrett/Jones. If you'd text/email a thought or two, I'd appreciate it."

Here is what I received in response from:

Brady Quinn/Fox Sports/CBS Digital: "(It's) absurd to think that. As good as both Barrett and Jones are, you are comparing them both to a Heisman Trophy winner who, over the course of his career in college football, proved his skills. Barrett has one season and Jones three games. At this point, it's incredibly premature and ridiculous."

Todd Blackledge/ESPN: "UTTERLY RIDICULOUS."

Bruce Feldman/FoxSports1: "That's ridiculous. Those fans should re-watch either of Manziel's games against Alabama."

Brad Edwards/ESPN: "QB preference depends on system, of course. It's not likely Manziel would be ahead of Jones in any offense that expects the QB to primarily throw from the pocket. But in an offense like Urban's, where it's an asset for the QB to run, I see no way Manziel would be behind Jones on the depth chart. Whether he'd also be ahead of Barrett has more to do with the priority Urban places on leadership skills. While not as dynamic of a runner as Manziel, Barrett is, by all accounts, a natural leader and would probably win the job if that was a big factor."

Tony Barnhart/SEC Network: "Johnny Manziel is one of the most creative and instinctive players I've ever seen. His skill set was perfectly suited for the college game. His style, while unpredictable, raised everybody's level of play. While I have a lot of respect for what J.T. and Cardale have done at Ohio State, Manziel is one of those special talents that doesn't come around that often. He had the, "It," factor. I don't see him being a back-up to either one of those guys."

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

Explaining the legacy of Indians' President Mark Shapiro

Aug 31, 2015 -- 9:10pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Explaining Mark Shapiro's legacy over 24 years with the Cleveland Indians is like sorting through the dynamic at a Kardashian family reunion.

 
It's complicated.
 
Shapiro will leave the Indians at season's end for the Toronto Blue Jays, taking a similar job to his current role as Tribe president, with much different parameters.
 
Shapiro likely won't be on the budget that's loomed over every decision he's made since becoming the Indians' general manager in 2001.
 
Tribe fans don't want to hear that excuse, or any other.
 
Cleveland's small-market status, minimal downtown residency and all other factors Shapiro could and did cite eloquently came to rest on deaf ears with a segment of the fan base tantilized by the Indians' flirtations with a world championship before Shapiro had the controls and after he assumed them.
 
During that transition, the economics of baseball shifted, the Indians morphed from Big Dog to Little Engine that Could and Shapiro's role became more exacting.
 
He preached organizational perfection to area scouts, trainers, minor league instructors and everyone with a hand in the Indians' performance.
 
It was, he acknowledged, the only way the club could compete with the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers and other teams that simply wrote bigger checks to cover the big checks that bounced on bad free-agent signings.
 
Organizational perfection is a noble goal.
 
It's also unachievable.
 
There were good trades that brought Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Travis Hafner, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin Soo Choo. And there were bad, or middling, ones that sent out C.C. Sabbathia and Lee in the aftermath of Cy Young Award seasons that missed on equipping the organization with transformative stars of tomorrow.
 
Shapiro critics can find justifiable reasons to label his time here a failure.
 
Those open to seeing nuance, rather than outright failure in falling short of a World Series triumph, realize the possibility that if the Indians reach another level without Shapiro, it might be another level down.
 
The one thing Shapiro's critics and supporters should agree on is his love and devotion for the game.
 
He never cheated that, which may not be the legacy a baseball lifer like Shapiro would choose, even if there are many far worse.
 

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Random Thoughts: Brian Hartline will prove to be the best free-agent signing of this regime

Aug 31, 2015 -- 10:08am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Ken Blaze USA Today

Random thoughts and questions about the Browns as the final pre-season game Thursday in Chicago approaches.

Who has more left in the tank? Robert Griffin III or Ray Rice? Who comes with more baggage? Who brings a bigger circus to Cleveland, should the Browns acquire either the struggling Redskins quarterback or the ex-Ravens running back?

Both Griffin and Rice bring a bigger Big Top than I'd prefer, but at least you could sell Griffin as someone who'll uphold the on- and off-field, "Play Like a Brown," mantra the organization likes to trot out when convenient.

===

In May, the Browns (and 31 other teams) wouldn't touch LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins in the NFL Draft while Collins was scheduled to talk to police regarding the murder of a pregnant woman he once dated. Police repeatedly said Collins, a likely first-round pick, was not a suspect in that case. Collins was cleared within two weeks and signed with Dallas.

At the time of the draft, the Browns wouldn't touch him in a climate where all NFL teams were nervous about incurring bad publicity like that visited upon Rice for slugging his wife in a casino elevator while cameras captured the assault. So the Browns drafted a backup offensive lineman (Cameron Irving) 19th overall and now are sniffing around Rice to bolster their injured running back ranks. A lot changes in a short time.

===

I miss Jim Donovan and Bernie Kosar on the Browns preseason TV broadcasts. Something tells me things aren't nearly as positive as Mike Patrick and Solomon Wilcots lead me to believe. If the Browns' defense pursues opponents as relentlessly as Patrick and Wilcots do positivity, there's a Super Bowl parade in our future.

===

Mike Pettine says he's sitting Josh McCown in the final preseason game, in part to protect him from repeating what he did by taking needless shots against Tampa. Pettine credited that to McCown being a former Buccaneer and being too eager to prove something against his former team. If we're going to have to sit McCown against every team he once played for to keep him from foolishly sticking his nose in there to prove something, he'll only play in about half the games.

===

Browns 30 for 30: What if I told you a football team built its offensive foundation on a rookie running back drafted 77th overall, a first-year coordinator, a quarterback who went 1-10 as a starter the year before, a No. 1 wideout who didn't catch a touchdown pass the year before and a converted quarterback-now-receiver who caught one TD pass since high school and didn't play any of the team's first three pre-season games.

===

Who could blame Terrelle Pryor if his ego overflows its boundries now and then. If the Browns keep him on the roster without him playing in the preseason at all, why would Pryor look at the NFL any differently than he did all those college coaches who begged him to come and play for their university?

===

I liked the brown jerseys and white pants OK. I just wish they'd lose at least one of the, "Browns," printing on the legs of the game pants.

===

Brian Hartline will prove to be the best free-agent signing of this regime. Yes, better than Donte Whitner and better than Karlos Dansby, and those were both good signings. Hartline has been doubted his entire career. All he does is produce.

===

Ray Farmer would kill on Flea Market Finds. His strength as a GM is finding undrafted free agents like Taylor Gabriel and Isaiah Crowell. But you wouldn't want to trust Farmer in a high-end auction house. Given his missteps in the first round, he'd probably flinch at the wrong time and end up buying a painting worth $5,000 for $5 million.

===

I wonder what Brad McCoy thinks of RG III being cleared to play post-concussion in Washington's third pre-season game, and then not being cleared a day later when doctors re-examined him?

 

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Forget the fake competition for Browns QB, Pettine should just clear it up

Aug 22, 2015 -- 6:52am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Mike Pettine typically does a solid job avoiding distractions with the way he answers questions.

It's one of the characteristics that elevates Pettine over his predecessors and raises hopes the Browns' head coaching carousel will remain stationary for awhile.

Just imagine how ineptly Pat Shurmur would be handling questions about Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, or whether we could even hear Rob Chudzinski's monotone answers to evaluate their merit.

But what Pettine is saying about his quarterbacks, and what he isn't saying, is mystifying.

You can read the entire account of Pettine's comments in Tony Grossi's story elsewhere on ESPNCleveland.com.

Throughout the summer and into fall camp, Pettine and everyone else in the Browns' organization has steadfastly stomped down any expectation that Manziel would compete for the starting job post-rehab.

That view didn't change Thursday despite two McCown interceptions in an 11-10 exhibition loss to Buffalo, in which Manziel directed the Browns only touchdown drive.

Score one for consistency of the organizational message, which hasn't always been a Browns strength.

But it's puzzling why Pettine on Friday backed strongly away from inquiries about whether he's ready to name McCown the starter for the season-opener at the New York Jets on Sept. 13.

If the Browns don't want hopes heaped on Manziel, and they don't want speculation about their starter, and they want fans and players to have faith in McCown, why not say something simple like, "Unless Josh gets hurt, I don't forsee anything right now that would prevent him from starting our first game."

Instead, we got this from the Browns' head coach.

"I’m not into guaranteeing or announcing a game-week starter," Pettine said. "That, to me, comes down the road. ... I don’t control the questions outside the building."

If Pettine is annoyed by the inquiries, he should stop leaving a plausible door open for Manziel to rally past McCown on the depth chart.

Sure, the Browns want to preserve the utopian ideal that every position must be earned, so that requires them to wait before announcing a starter, right?

If so, what exactly did McCown do -- besides not be named, Brian Hoyer -- to earn the edge he currently has on Manziel?

It's perfectly justified -- smart, even -- for the Browns to side with the veteran and avoid asking too much too soon from Manziel.

So why not go all the way and just lay out a clear No. 1 and No. 2, without mincing words?

Pettine could laud Manziel for the progress he's made, but say the team is looking for growth in just a few more additional areas before considering him ready to lead the offense.

That would set a tone the team and the city could get behind, and dangle the carrot of future playing time in front of Manziel that should keep him interested.

Instead, the Browns are cultivating a fake competition masquerading as a real competition that they contend is a real competition whenever they're questioned about how fake it is.

In essence, this quarterback "battle" has all the legitimacy of Monday Night Raw, without any of the production values.

A Royal Rumble, it is not.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Browns should target Matt Barkley as low-risk option for QB depth chart

Aug 18, 2015 -- 8:13pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

One scrimmage in Ohio Stadium and one exhibition game promise good things for the top of the Browns' quarterback depth chart, if not the depth at the position.

Starter Josh McCown has played well and certainly embraces his mentorship role the way a self-less, team-first veteran should.

Backup Johnny Manziel is clearly more comfortable and better prepared than a season ago, which is encouraging, although not a long-term guarantee.

But the likely season-ending injury to Connor Shaw is troubling, in light of the Browns' injury history at quarterback.

Or their history at quarterback, period.

I'd advocate exploring a trade with Philadelphia, which is four-deep at the position with Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow.

Barkley would be my target as a hedge against future injuries to McCown and/or Manziel, and as a preference to playing Thad Lewis, who is fine for an emergency, but not if the Browns need a QB to start more than one game.

Barkley is intriguing because he's entering just his third year in the league.

He's completed 60% of the 50 passes he's thrown in the regular season, and he was impressive in the Eagles' preseason opener.

None of that proves anything about Barkley's future potential.

He's a risk, but a worthwhile one, given his low cost to acquire.

An NFL scout I spoke with estimates Philly would listen to offers of a fifth-, sixth- or seventh-rounder, given that Eagles coach Chip Kelly seems determined to prove to the rest of the league how smart he is by reviving Tebow's career.

The Browns label McCown a bridge QB, but a bridge to what? To Manziel's rebirth post-rehab? To taking another future franchise QB in the 2016 draft?

Barkley's presence would hold Manziel accountable, and getting Barkley at this point in training camp would give him time to learn the offense in case he's needed during the regular season.

Surely, it's preferable to scrambling for the whereabouts of Tyler Thigpen or Rex Grossman on short notice.

Or, heaven forbid, Terrelle Pryor as the quarterback on the other end of the phone line should the Browns be forced to dial 911.

Best case scenario: Barkley plays in Cleveland and proves there's no need to draft a QB in 2016.

Worst case scenario: He's pressed into service and proves he's not the answer.

What are the Browns out either way, besides a low-round pick?

Until he injured a quad Tuesday in the Browns' practice vs. the Buffalo Bills, I would have endorsed trading second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert for Barkley.

Sure, it would have been an admission the Browns whiffed on drafting Gilbert No. 8 overall in 2014.

Some might say it's too early to give up on Gilbert, but is there any encouraging sign that hints he's going to figure anything out on or off the field?

There are few things worse than fanning on the eighth pick in the draft and stubbornly sticking with that player in defiance of everything he says and does.

What could be worse than that?

Leaving any stone unturned as a guard against protecting the Browns from getting caught short at quarterback again.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

The Buckeyes are now in survival mode

Aug 17, 2015 -- 9:07am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had a delightful summer, going to the ESPY's in Las Vegas, playing Celebrity Softball at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati and basking in the glow of winning the first College Football Playoff.

But while you may be squeezing one last vestige of fun out of what time remains between now and Labor Day, there's no more room for frolick in Meyer's world.

"It's a fricking grind right now," Meyer said yesterday at OSU's football media day. "At this point in time, there's not much balance (in my life)...I'm not playing Muirfield right now, I can tell you that."

Instead, Meyer repeatedly emphasized that his team is now entering, "survival mode," its first full week of practices aimed at building the emotional bonds that will join with his roster's wide-ranging talents to hopefully return the Buckeyes to the national championship game.

It's scheduled for Jan. 11 at University of Phoenix Stadium, if you'd like to mark it on the calendar.

There's no mention of it on the schedule on Ohio State's web site, probably because Meyer wouldn't allow it. He doesn't want his team thinking, and certainly not believing, the concensus of opinions across the country that OSU is far and away the nation's best team.

Meyer scolded ESPN's Mike Greenberg the other day for noting that "everyone" thinks Ohio State is No. 1.

"We certainly don't think that," Meyer said, coldly.

For that reason, it was mildly surprising to see Meyer standing before a room crowded with reporters wearing a golf shirt with the 2014 National Champions logo on it.

But, rest assured, "We don't have the gold trophy out there (on the practice field)," Meyer said.

What he has is a team the rest of the coaching world envies, given the presence of quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, and newly-minted receiver and former two-time Big Ten MVP at QB, Braxton Miller.

Miller's shoulder clearly prompted his switch.

Meyer said he's shied from allowing Miller to practice a double-pass play at receiver for fear of injuring the shoulder he's had surgically-repaired three times.

Miller still thinks of himself at least partially as a quarterback, noting that whether Jones or Barrett wins the job,  "There's always going to be two quarterbacks on the field."

The second one would be him, of course, provided Miller fwins a starting job at a position that's clear of competition for the opener with Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson's suspensions.

Miller has switched jerseys from No. 5 to No. 1 this season, but he's not in that spot on the depth chart yet.

"As a reciever, you line up and run for two hours," Meyer said. "As a quarterback, you don't run. You run for maybe four or five minutes each practice and then you're doing other things."

Those things are now left to Barrett and Jones, but their competition apparently comes without any individual agendas.

"It hasn't hindered our relationship at all," Barrett said. "That's what we do here. It's not about the indivdual. If it's not me, it's him. That's the way it should be. What am I going to do if it's not me, be mad at my coach? Be mad at Cardale? It won't be their fault if I don't play well."

Meyer said he's seen some competitions where players feign friendship, but the bond between Jones and Barrett is real.

"It's one of the most refreshing competitons I've ever witnessed," Meyer said. "That's all starting from a family (perspective). The families are great. We don't put up with that (selfishness) here....Those two guys get along. When I say best friends, those guys are unbelievable how well they get along."

Not surprisingly, Barrett and Jones agree that a platoon system wouldn't be ideal.

"In a two-quarterback system, let's say I'm on the field for three plays and I'm off the field and he runs a drive or something like that, I don't know how well that would work as far as rhythm and developing timing with the guys." Jones said.

So, if Meyer talks platoon, it will likely be only in the context of the frequent military analogies he offers when talking about his team.

"You want to make it real hard and all the walls are broken down so they bleed ‑‑ we call it bleed on each other," Meyer said. "It's just that whole (G.K.) Chesterton quote we live by: 'The soldier doesn't fight because of the hatred that's in front of him, he or she fights because of the love of those behind him.'That's what we're trying to create right now. It's a survival mentality."

 

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Paying Tristan's ransom isn't a smart gamble for Cavs

Aug 12, 2015 -- 8:49pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

There are many luxuries afforded the Cavaliers because of LeBron James' presence on the roster, but handing a backup power forward a $94 million contract isn't one of them.

Even James' otherworldly ability to cover teammates injuries and unforseen setbacks of every sort would be no match for the long-term lunacy of bestowing a max contract upon Tristan Thompson.

Rich Paul, who is James agent, and conveniently Thompson's, as well, insists Thompson won't play for the Cavaliers beyond next season if he's boxed into playing for a one-year qualifying offer of $6.8 million.

Playing under those terms would allow Thompson to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, when the NBA salary cap soars, thanks to a new TV deal.

Thompson is betting his own significant contributions to the Cavs' push toward the NBA Finals, and his cozy relationship with James, will force the team to pay him $14 million more over five seasons than the $80 million he's already been offered.

The down side for the Cavs calling this bluff is it could, theoretically, alienate James to sign with another team next season, should things go south for the franchise.

It's no sure thing James would walk just because the Cavs make a sensible financial decision on Thompson, although Thompson is certainly better positioned to know than the rest of us.

He must also know, however, that no team places him in the ideal position to capitalize upon his limited -- though significant -- talents than the Cavaliers.

Thompson can run, rebound, play defense and block shots. He not only plays every night, he plays with an energy few in the NBA exceed.

After that, Thompson's resume might as well be printed in invisible ink, because there's not much there.

He's worth a lot to the Cavs because James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and others cover the blank spaces in Thompson's game.

Other franchises would insist on 20-to-25 points per-night and 10-to-12 rebounds a night if paying Thompson what he wants Dan Gilbert to fork over.

Figuratively, Thompson can't cash that expectations check which would literally make his max-contract dreams a reality anywhere but Cleveland.

And he might be over-extending his credit, expecting James to walk elsewhere with him, in the summer of 2016.

No one nationally will bludgeon Thompson for departing to play elsewhere.

A second James exit would not play well anywhere but in the city he lands.

Gilbert can afford the luxury tax he will pay this season for a roster significantly over the salary cap, but that reality confined the Cavs to bringing back pretty much the same team it put on the floor last season.

Giving Thompson $94 million would come back to haunt the team down the road in maneuvering to compliment the Big Three should a need arise.

That chunk of cash, or the $80 million Thompson has already rejected, would give the team much more flexibility and perhaps leave them better off in the long term.

That's only true if James stays, of course.

But that's a safer risk to run than paying a ransom to Thompson just to ensure James staying put.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Biggest issue in front of Ohio State is not who starts at QB, but instead the four player suspensions

Aug 08, 2015 -- 4:45pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Urban Meyer won't admit this, but the distraction he faces is far more useful than the one he's been spared.
 
As the defending national champion Buckeyes prepare to report for fall training camp on Sunday, the biggest looming issue in front of them is the suspension of four players from the Sept. 7 season-opener at Virginia Tech.
 
Some might label the quarterback competition between J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones a bigger problem, but that controversy comes with almost no downside to its resolution.
 
Whoever Meyer names the starter -- and the belief here is it will be Barrett -- the Buckeyes are likely to roll over their competition.
 
After all, what's the down side to siding with Barrett, who set 17 OSU records and two Big Ten marks in the 12 games he played, or Jones, who rode to the rescue with three phenomenal performances in the post-season?
 
But imagine how it could have been had Braxton Miller not switched to H-back.
 
Every pass, every move, every rumor and report would have focused on the three-headed quarterback competition.
 
Fans would have picked favorites, and players might have done so, too.
 
But Miller's decision, perhaps sparked by a right shoulder slow to heal from multiple surgeries, took all the air out of the OSU quarterback speculation.
 
So the Buckeyes are left only with the annoyance of defensive end Joey Bosa and receivers Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith being suspended from a game against the only team to defeat OSU a year ago.
 
Ohio State is obviously far better with those four players than it is without them, but the suspensions also give Meyer a useful tool to focus his team amid all the pre-season chatter about how invincible the Buckeyes will be against an overmatched schedule.
 
Many teams talented enough to defend their title have been undone by their consumption of the narrative that a second straight championship was inevitable.
 
Ohio State's 2002 team probably owes its national title ring to an overconfident Miami squad that had won 34 straight games and stood as 13-point favorites entering that Fiesta Bowl.
 
Bosa's absence from the Virginia Tech game forces the rest of OSU's defense to rally without the player every opposing offense will prioritize to stop.
 
And without Marshall, Smith and Wilson, Ohio State is on notice that Miller's development at receiver can't be put on the back burner.
 
But besides the schematic issues the suspensions
 
force, the best thing about them from Meyer's perspective is that he can pound his players about attending to every detail, whether in the classroom or on the social circuit.
 
Meyer has entitled this OSU pursuit of the first repeat championship in school history, The Grind.
 
The suspensions give him a good reason to do just that...grind on his team.
 
That's Meyer's management style, and it's worked for three championship rings in his career.
 
So while the suspensions weren't made to order, they aren't without benefit to him in the short or long term.
 

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

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