Top spring position battles: No. 5

February, 17, 2014 Feb 17 9:00 AM ET COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field in spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline. But the pressure isn’t the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won’t be sweating a competition for a starting job — obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But who will back up Braxton Miller is just one of the most intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and that’s where this week’s countdown begins as we look at the candidates for some critical gigs for a team with its sights set on winning it all come fall.

+ EnlargeBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Kenny Guiton was the ultimate security blanket the past two seasons. Will Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett earn that spot in 2014?No. 5: Backup quarterback Predecessor: Kenny Guiton (75 for 109, 749 yards, 14 touchdowns, two interceptions; 40 carries for 330 yards and five TDs)

Candidates: Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett

Why to watch: Given the amount of hits Miller takes and the number of times he’s been forced out of games even briefly due to injury, there’s no question that having a security blanket behind him is crucial for the Buckeyes. Nobody made Meyer feel cozier than Guiton over the last two seasons, and he became something of a legend for his uncanny ability to keep the offense rolling along when Miller was forced out of the lineup. Ohio State is unlikely to get the same level of maturity and leadership the fifth-year senior provided from two guys with such limited experience, but it will need to quickly identify whether it’s Jones or Barrett who has the best chance to duplicate Guiton’s on-field success off the bench.

Pre-camp edge: The Buckeyes made a point of getting Jones some significant reps during spring ball a year ago, and he was then given a couple opportunities to show what he could do in a live setting by appearing in three games last season. There’s not much to be learned about his ability throwing the football with just two passes on his resume, but Jones showed how dangerous he can be running it with 17 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. Even that small amount of experience and the time he’s had to absorb the playbook should give him a head start in March, but Barrett certainly can’t be ruled out after arriving on campus and instantly impressing the coaching staff with his grasp of the system and devotion to learning his craft.

Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming.

Continue reading this article at ESPN: Top spring position battles: No. 5