Smith to challenge Zwick for QB job

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 3, 2004

COLUMBUS - Justin Zwick had the edge - for just one day.

Zwick worked out as the frontline quarterback with Ohio State's first-team offense at Thursday's first spring practice. Troy Smith got his shot on Friday, with Zwick taking his place running the second offensive unit.

''We're going to do a lot of rotating,'' coach Jim Tressel explained.

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The two sophomores are competing for the starting quarterback job left open by the graduation of Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen, who jousted over the same spot for most of three seasons.

Zwick is a rangy 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who came to Ohio State as the most acclaimed quarterback recruit since Art Schlichter in 1979. Smith, at 6-1 and a compact 210, was brought to campus not as a quarterback but an ''athlete'' - which is typically coachspeak for ''good enough that we'll try to find him a spot but not good enough to play quarterback.''

Those lines have been blurred, however, as Smith was arguably the better of the two prospects throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2003.

With Krenzel and McMullen gone, the focus is on them for a change.

''It was a little weird not having those two around in meetings and whatnot, just to talk to them,'' Zwick said of the tandem who led Ohio State to a 25-2 record the past two seasons. ''But they've moved on to bigger and better things and it's our time to come up and lead the team.''

Neither Zwick nor Smith is looking out of the corner of his eye at the other. Both are trying to approach the quarterback derby by learning the offense, doing their best and seeing which way Tressel and his staff lean.

''I don't think of it as a competition between the two of us,'' said Smith, who played quarterback, played basketball and ran track at Lakewood St. Edward and Cleveland Glenville in high school. ''It's about the team. It's not about Justin and me. It's about learning the position, gaining some experience and doing the right things for the team.''

Smith's Ohio State experience is limited to bit parts in practice at quarterback and returning five kickoffs last season.

Zwick did see action behind center a year ago but in mop-up duty. The former Orrville and Massillon Washington quarterback is commonly portrayed as a standard-issue pocket-passer. But just like Smith, he also played basketball and track - and was pretty good at both - in addition to starring at quarterback in high school.

Zwick said he doesn't feel as if he's being analyzed all the time by coaches.

''I don't think of it like that,'' he said. ''I just come out every day and try to learn what they try to teach us and do it as well as I can and try to get better every day. That's all I can worry about.''

Freshman Todd Boeckman is also listed on the depth chart, although he is just learning the offense and has never stepped on the field in a game.

Spring workouts, of course, are a time for experimentation. Zwick looked strong in last year's spring game - then spent almost the entire season watching Krenzel and McMullen from the best seat in the house. The stock of players rises and falls and today's starting quarterback might be tomorrow's third-team strong safety.

Tressel seems to genuinely be enjoying the baby steps of his young players.

''It was fun to watch some guys take on some new roles and step to the front of the huddle,'' he said after the first workout.

Zwick has a slight edge in the race for No. 1, but the line separating him from Smith is almost nonexistent.

''The thing that I've mentioned to both Troy and Justin is this: Justin right now has a little edge conceptually in our passing game,'' Tressel said. ''Troy right now in my mind has a little bit of edge in that he's shown he can step up and make something happen when things (don't happen like) they were meant to. We need a guy or two guys who can do both of those things.''

Tressel said the quarterback race won't be based on a practice or even a week or two of workouts. The evaluations will be over the long haul.

''Again, I don't know that I'd bring up that edge,'' he said of Zwick's early advantage. ''If it was the fourth quarter of the first game and it was today, I'd have to see the first three quarters'' to decide who would be on the field at the finish.