Quarterback competitions are not rare in football. Every place has them, and even if there isn’t a competition for the starting job, there are competitions going on behind the starter.
In all of these competitions, the guy who wins the job is the quarterback who can handle his responsibilities the best. And the best way to handle those responsibilities is to focus on the task at hand, instead of focusing on the competition.
In 2015, the Buckeyes had a quarterback battle between Cardale Jones and JT Barrett. Neither player played to their potential because Barrett was trying to give the coaches what they got from Jones, while Jones was always looking over his shoulder worried that he’d get yanked in a game in favor of Barrett.
Both guys were more worried about the other than they were simply doing the job to the best of their ability. And while Ohio State head coach Ryan Day wasn’t at OSU when that was happening, he’s seen it happen before. It’s one of the first things he talked to his three quarterback candidates about prior to spring ball.
“The first advice is what you can’t do is you can’t get in a daily battle with the guy next to you,” Day said this spring. “You’re in a room and a unit where you’re all playing the same position, typically only one plays. So that’s a unique situation in football.”
This isn’t a revelation to any of Ohio State’s current quarterbacks. They have been quarterbacks all their lives, so they know the downside of not winning the starting job.
Redshirt freshmen CJ Stroud and Jack Miller and true freshman Kyle McCord all got good work in this spring running the Ohio State offense, but that was just the beginning of the process. That process will continue this summer on their own and then into preseason camp and beyond.
Through it all, Day’s advice should be resonating for each of the quarterbacks as they look to prove themselves worthy of leading this team. And if it isn’t, it shouldn’t be hard to spot.
“I’ve been in those rooms my whole life and what you find is the guys who fight it, the guys who end up in this kind of battle with the guy next to him and it becomes friction there, it’s not good for either either guy,” he said. “And so some of the best, most fierce battles I have been around, they become really, really close. And they have to just dive themselves into the process. They can’t worry day in and day out about ‘am I going to get to get one leg up on the guy next to me or not.’ Certainly it’s a competition, and there has to be a little bit of that, but what has to happen is you have to get really just immersed in the process and how do I get better every day. But also knowing that there’s a lot of guys counting on me to do my job.”
One of the fundamental flaws of a player measuring himself against his competition is that he could still be selling himself well short of what the team actually needs. Being good enough to win a job doesn’t necessarily equate to being good enough to lead a team.
Leading the team is what a starting quarterback has to do, and he can’t do it if he’s constantly worrying about what another quarterback is doing.
“I have to build a reputation of somebody that’s doing things the right way. I have to create a work ethic. I have to understand that I know the offense better than anybody else on that field,” Day said of the quarterback’s responsibilities.
“And when you have that credibility and you do things the right way, then all of a sudden guys will start to follow you because being a leader is the number one job of a quarterback. And that’s hard to do when you’re young if you don’t do things the right way and create that great standard. So those are the kinds of things we’ve talked about so far.”