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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

 

 

 

Maybe It Will Be Different

Aug 03, 2015 -- 10:08pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

It is an uncomfortable admission, but an honest one, nonetheless.

Halfway into the first week of Browns training camp, there is something missing.

My enthusiasm for the entire spectacle.

I know that will cause some to question the authenticity of my fandom, to which I would counter that if I didn't care, I wouldn't feel as guilty about it as I do.

Season after season, decade after decade, the advent of training camp has always sparked the hope that maybe this would be the year.

But not this year.

Not yet, anyway.

In many ways, I feel like the ignored spouse in a marriage gone boringly bad.

Too many years have passed where my Browns have figuratively expected dinner on the table at 6 o'clock every night without every expressing appreciation for the effort.

And forget flowers.

They never bring me flowers.

I said, "I do," to this franchise long, long ago.

I know it's a life-long commitment with no escape.

For while you can divorce your husband or wife, sever a business partnership or move across the country and start life all over again, you cannot leave your sports loyalties behind.

They are with you forever, when you, like me, were a child bride of the Cleveland Browns in an arranged marriage.

My brother raised me a Browns fan, and it worked out pretty well in the beginning. Playoffs, or the hope of that, arose almost every year.

Sure, heartbreak -- or what I thought was heartbreak -- always intruded somewhere along the line.

Then I came to learn that ultimate pain wasn't losing a step short of the Super Bowl, but was instead stumbling miles short of that goal.

That's been the norm since 1999.

But I don't have to tell you what you already know.

I'm envious the arrival of journeyman Josh McCown moves some to believe the ponderous search for a serviceable quarterback has ended.

I wish I could buy into the dreams that Terrelle Pryor will turn the NFL on its ear at a position he's never played before.

I'd love to believe the clock would retreat 30 years to indulge a defensively-dominant, run-oriented game plan against an NFL where the rules stack significantly in favor of teams which can throw.

The one thing I have no patience for any more is the admonishment to be patient while this latest Browns regime works its plan.

I know it takes time.

Intellectually, I get that.

Emotionally, they need to understand that everyone brings into a relationship the scars of previous relationships.

The wife cheated on by a first husband will react adversely to the second husband who arrives home late from work with no explanation.

Too many coaches, too many GMs, too many next-big-thing draft choices and failed free agents have left the football equivalent of wet towels on the bed for me to abide the same behavior any more.

So I get nervous when I see an offense devoid of proven playmakers and a defense counting on rookies and aging veterans in key spots.

Maybe in a few days, or after a few exhibition games, I'll be able to convince myself it will be different this time.

I really do want to get there.

I'm just not there yet.

Am I alone?

Or do I need to make room in the boat for you?

 

####

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

 

 

 

If I Were You

Jul 30, 2015 -- 9:48am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The surprise stemming from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's standing firm on a four-game suspension for Tom Brady grew from flawed roots.

Goodell's punishment for Brady's role in the latest Patriots' cheating scandal was never going to boil down to the deflation of footballs.

It was always going to be about Brady and his franchise's lack of cooperation with the league's investigation.

When you hear arguments that whatever happened when New England throttled Indianapolis in the playoffs gave Brady no decisive advantage in the 45-7 outcome, ignore the bluster.

Of course, it didn't.

So what?

What Tommy B. knew and when he knew it, or whether it can be proven Brady ordered the Patriots ball boys to tinker with the balls, doesn't matter.

Goodell, just like the NCAA, won't abide being shown up by an underling.

Brady, as talented and telegenic as he is, cooked his chances of avoiding a suspension when he laughed at the initial DeflateGate questions and then doubled down by destroying a cell phone he knew the league wanted to examine.

Brady's defenders argue he shouldn't be forced to surrender his private cell phone, and they are absolutely right.

So what?

Destroying it the day he was to meet with NFL investigator Ted Wells was Brady figuratively mooning Goodell's authority to question him.

Now Brady wants the NFL Players Association to lead his appeal. That's the same NFL Players Association that, in exhange for relaxed training camp procedures and friendlier off-season conditioning rules, willingly agreed to Goodell's appointment as judge, jury, executioner and appelate court in the last collective bargaining agreement.

Brady had a chance to proclaim his innocence in a pre-Super Bowl interview with Bob Costas. When asked to do so, Brady said "however those facts come out, those will be news to me, as well."

If you're innocent, don't you know -- or, at least, contend -- the facts will exonerate you before whatever investigation the NFL conducts?

Brady and everyone in the Patriots organization blew this, and now they're engaged in a  public relations war with the NFL that it's doubtful the team or its star quarterback can win.

The way to attack it would have been to stall the week of the Super Bowl -- "We have a game to play, and after it's over, we'll address DeflateGate" -- and then have Brady say something like this as he stood on the podium, clutching the MVP trophy:

"Everyone in our organization works extra hard so we can all enjoy a moment like this. If our equipment guys went over the line trying to deliver footballs to me the way I like them, I'd hate that for the integrity of the league and our organization. If that happened, I'd deeply regret that they mistook our desire to do everything we can to win for pressure to do anything even remotely against the rules."

If Brady says anything close to that, he and Patriots owner Bob Kraft aren't trying to dig out from an avalanche of bad publicity and perceived guilt.

Outside Patriots Nation, the well-established image of the franchise as serial cheaters predisposes them to culpability on DeflateGate in the public's eye.

The NFL has added to that perception with purposefully leaked stories that 11 of the 12 New England footballs in the Colts' game were significantly underinflated.

Sure, it wasn't true, but it was out there for a long time before being retracted, and the retraction never cancels the initial headlines.

Hours before Goodell's 20-page justification for upholding Brady's suspension, the league floated the destroyed cell phone narrative.

No amount of Brady Facebook postings will neutralize that.

It is nice, though, that Tommy finally found his footing on social media to proclaim what he failed to do in front of 114 million viewers on the Super Bowl pregame show.

If I were you, Tom, I'd take my suspension before your appeal opens a window to subpoena things you're accustomed to having  your personal assistant destroy.

And, of course, I'd definitely unfriend Roger Goodell.

 

####

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

 

 

 

With Braxton Miller done at QB, the Buckeyes will inevitably turn to J.T. Barrett over Cardale Jones

Jul 24, 2015 -- 1:00pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

The Ohio State quarterback competition is a lot less crowded and a lot more predictable with Braxton Miller's announced intention to switch to a hybrid receiver position.

Miller's bombshell, aired Thursday night on SI.com, clears the way for J.T. Barrett to resume the starting job he held until a broken ankle in the Michigan game ushered national championship savior Cardale Jones into the spotlight.

So what loomed as a three-man battle between Miller, a two-time Big Ten offensive player-of-the-year; Barrett, the fifth-place finisher in the 2014 Heisman Trophy race; and Jones, who nervelessly annihilated Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon en route to the first college football playoff title; now loses a lot more than one-third of its combatants.

Meet the new quarterback competition; same as the old quarterback competition.

Barrett edged in front of Jones last August when Miller's surgically-repaired right shoulder went ker-blooey on one of his first ardent throws of fall camp.

Jones had been the backup in the spring, when Miller sat out following post-Orange Bowl surgery, but Barrett's numbing efficiency and superior attention to detail nudged him in front of Jones just before Miller went down.

Barrett did nothing to make head coach Urban Meyer question that decision, setting 17 Ohio State single-season records and a pair of Big Ten marks.

Barrett threw for 2,834 yards, rushed for 938 and accounted for 45 touchdowns.

While this summer has been filled with speculation about Miller's eventual destination and Jones tweeting about this and this and this and this, Barrett was quietly rehabilitating his ankle and wowing a Super Bowl-winning quarterback at the Nike Elite 11 camp.

So, whose summer do you think Meyer approves of most?

Sure, the OSU head coach can say Miller's move to H-back -- where he'll run the ball and catch the ball (and most-assuredly add yet another wrinkle to an already ridiculously-potent Ohio State attack with his ability to throw) -- isn't official just yet, but that's ridiculous.

The fact that Pete Thamel of SI.com broke the Miller story tells you all you need to know about whether this caught Meyer unaware.

Thamel doesn't get to Miller without Meyer knowing, because a solid reporter like Thamel isn't going to risk the inside access he has to Meyer going behind the coach's back to contact Miller.

Remember last December, on that Sunday morning when the four playoff teams were announced? Who do you think was watching the announcement in the living room of Urban Meyer's home on the seventh fairway at Muirfield Village Golf Club?

None other than Pete Thamel.

No reporter worth his bones -- and Thamel is among the best on college football -- is going to napalm a bridge into Urban Meyer's castle for a backdoor play with Braxton Miller.

Then there's the football side of this.

Is Meyer going to force Miller to play quarterback with arguably-better options in Barrett and Jones available?

Is Meyer going to reject the free pass of a now-orderely quarterback hierarchy because he craves the hotly-debated drama and round-the-clock quizzing of a three-player competition bound to end with fans of the two losers upset?

The answers to those questions are as obvious as the outcome of the supposed Barrett-Jones competition that remains.

Meyer will start Barrett and keep Jones in reserve because doing just that won the Buckeyes a national championship last season, and because Barrett has proven himself more reliable at all the things coaches obsess about.

Jones is playful, carefree and colorful in a sport that often makes no allowance for any of that.

Barrett is efficient, consistent and boring, and thus the perfect automaton to gain Meyer a fourth national championship ring.

Barrett is not quite as electric a runner as Miller and not quite as awe-inspiring a thrower as Jones, but he's close enough in both categories to lead OSU past its comically-impotent regular-season schedule.

Jones gives Meyer a proven backup he can humor with enough minutes against the Buckeyes' overmatched opponents to polish his NFL Draft stock.

Just in case something happens to Barrett -- and it certainly could given that Meyer voluntarily subjects his quarterbacks to hundreds of hits a season -- Jones will be ready in the bullpen to come in and close.

We've seen this movie before and it played to rave reviews.

Why would Meyer tinker with an award-winning script now?

He won't, of course, which means the much-anticipated Buckeyes' quarterback battle is over before it began.

It sure was fun while it lasted.

####

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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