Fickell’s biggest challenge: tab Pryor’s successor

The Columbus Dispatch


As much as college football coaches love competition on the practice field, they also prefer that there be no doubt about the most important position on the team: starting quarterback.

Now, imagine the challenge for Luke Fickell, thrust into the coach’s chair at Ohio State on May 30 in the wake of the NCAA investigation that cost 10-year coach Jim Tressel his job and three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor his college career.

Not only did Fickell inherit a program that is under the NCAA microscope, but he also faces a QB decision in the next few weeks that will go a long way toward defining the 2011 Buckeyes —’ and could be a major factor in determining whether he remains the team’s coach beyond this season.

Seemingly unfazed, Fickell said his approach to deciding the winner among senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and freshman Braxton Miller will be simple.

“We’re going to find out who’s best,” he said.

The textbook decision would be to go with the fifth-year senior who was the backup to Pryor the past two seasons, then identify the most promising of the other three as backup. But because of Pryor’s dominance of the position over the past two seasons, there’s little tangible evidence that justifies simply handing Bauserman the job. In fact, there is the snippet of video from his brief fill-in appearance for an injured Pryor at Illinois last year that strongly suggests he should not be the starter.

“They are all young in their own way, meaning they haven’t taken a whole lot of snaps in front of 106,000,” Fickell said. “It’s most important who fits what our team does best.

“Obviously we’ve got to do what they [quarterbacks] do well, but it is important that they can do what our team does well.”

Of course, he would prefer that an obvious leader emerge in the next couple of weeks. However, he pointed out, it’s usually not as simple as picking out the winner of, say, a 100-yard dash.

“It’s not as cut and dried sometimes,” Fickell said. ‘We’re going to talk about what we always talk about — we want to see it. And when we see it, that helps us make our decisions.”

What are the coaches hoping to see?

“Leadership, toughness and consistency,” quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said.

But this is more like a political debate, because each brings something a little different to the party. Graham, for instance, is a classic pocket-passer type who doesn’t have the mobility of some of his teammates. “[He] has to have the opportunity to see how he does in situations where his strengths are,” Fickell said.

Miller, on the other hand, can move around plenty — at least in early practices.

Fickell said, “It’s hard sometimes to even see his strengths, some of his best qualities, when you can’t tackle, and you aren’t in pads, and that guy isn’t live.”

Bauserman and Guiton, meanwhile, are something of a combination.

“Joe is a competitive guy. I think he can do pretty much most of it. He can move. He is decently athletic. He can stand back there [in the pocket] at times, too,” Fickell said. “Kenny is much more like Joe. I think he’s got the abilty to do both [throw and run].

“Now we’ve just got to figure out what the team needs best, and who is best suited for that.”

In other words, it will come down to a gut feeling backed up by one significant, measurable statistic.

“The first thing is they need to take care of the football,” Siciliano said. “And get the ball to our guys in the right spots at the right time, and let everything take care of itself.”

It makes sense, he added, that a four-man race will be reduced to three or two in the next week or so.

“I think at some point we’ll have to narrow it,” Siciliano said. “I just don’t know when that will happen.”

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