For one reason or another, it seems reasonable to conclude Jim Tressel took longer looks at young quarterbacks Taylor Graham and Braxton Miller this spring because he already knows plenty about veterans Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton.
Only Tressel knows for sure if that is good news or bad news for Bauserman and Guiton, but I’m leaning toward the latter.
They might know more of the plays, but that won’t take them very far if they can’t execute them at a higher rate than the guys who are still learning, and that’s what I saw during the three spring scrimmages and a couple of open practices.
They weren’t so much bad as I don’t think they set the bar very high, a big negative considering both of the young guys most likely have more overall talent than the two older ones.
Graham and Miller both have strong arms with the edge in velocity probably going to Miller. Both have some inconsistencies in their delivery, and I have to think that’s a much bigger negative for Graham than Miller because Graham doesn’t bring anything else to the table.
Graham was sacked five times Saturday and is the one of the four who can’t keep plays alive with his feet. I think that will hurt him a lot when Tressel makes a decision about who will start. Bauserman and Guiton can avoid rushers and will pick up the occasional first down on a scramble while Miller can do those things but also has the same ability to take one to the house as Terrelle Pryor.
Tressel seems to view that attribute with increasing importance from year to year, but the most important thing he looks for is the guy who knows what to do with the ball most often. And the No. 1 thing his quarterbacks must avoid is putting the ball up for grabs.
Despite their experience, neither Bauserman or Guiton stand out in that area, and that’s why the door is so wide open for Graham and Miller.
None of the four are ready to be the focal point of an offense. Tressel will not do much searching for small chunks of yardage through the air, as he did in the latter part of Troy Smith’s career and at times last season as Pryor matured.
If you can’t form a unit that will regularly march down the field in 3-6 yard bursts, you need one capable of breaking off at least a half dozen big plays per game. Both is ideal, of course, but you must decide which one you want to be if that’s not an option.
I believe if the mental side of things is close to equal, Tressel will go with the player most likely to do something great when the chips are down. That’s what worked most of the time during Pryor’s freshman year. The 2008 offensive line wasn’t very good and Pryor could not consistently execute short throws, so basically all of the team’s success consisted of Pryor or Beanie Wells breaking three tackles and outrunning everyone or Pryor hitting Brian Hartline or Brian Robiskie with deep balls against one-on-one coverage when the defense was worried about Wells. There was no in between, and that was by necessity.
This year the offensive line should be much better, enough to offset the difference between Wells’ considerable talent and that of the backs on hand (although there is a lot to like there) and create more opportunities for big plays down the field (I’m not sure if the receivers this year have proven they will catch the ball enough to make a controlled passing game go, either, but I am certain they have a few guys who can take the top off of the defense).
Fans get frustrated when teams spin their wheels, but the fact is you don’t have to win every play. You just can’t lose too many plays. If you have a good defense, a stalemate is OK for your offense as long as you’re not giving up the ball or giving up ground.
Being able to overpower everyone in your path is preferable, and Tressel had offenses that could do that in 2006 and 2010, but he is completely comfortable playing the counter-punching style we saw more often during his first decade on the sidelines in Columbus.
If you’re going to play rope-a-dope, having one-punch knockout power is essential because you never know how many opportunities you’re going to get to put points on the board.
So how do we interpret the results of the battle between the younger pair?
Teammates say Graham has a lot of football smarts, but is that enough to overcome his deficiencies? I’d say no as long as Miller can reach some undefined baseline of knowledge himself, and he appeared to make positive strides in that department this month.
In poker terms, Miller has the most outs on any given play. He’s most capable of getting the ball to more places on the field, whether that’s with the velocity to nail a throw from one hashmark to the opposite sideline or the fleetness of foot to leave a linebacker grasping for air when he has him dead to rights.
I look for that to be the ultimate difference.