As a five-star recruit who comes to Ohio State with as much hype as any quarterback who has never actually played a game for the Buckeyes before, Justin Fields isn’t just expected to be Ohio State’s starting quarterback in 2019 – he’s expected to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
Two days of practice into his first spring at Ohio State, however, Fields knows he still has a long way to go to make any of that happen.
“I can improve in everything, every aspect,” Fields said Friday after the Buckeyes’ second practice of the spring. “I’m kind of hard on myself. I’m kind of a perfectionist. So in terms of my practice, I think I would probably give myself, well, not where I want to be. So I definitely got some more things to improve on, and just keep getting better.”
After receiving a waiver from the NCAA to be immediately eligible this season following his transfer from Georgia, Fields became the presumptive frontrunner to start for Ohio State at quarterback this season, even though he just arrived in January. So far, he appears to be in the pole position, taking most of the first-team reps during the viewing windows that have been open to the media during the first two practices.
Both head coach Ryan Day and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich, however, have said that they expect Fields to compete with the other quarterbacks all spring – in particular, redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin – and they aren’t likely to name a starting quarterback until after the spring game.
Fields says he hasn’t been promised anything, so right now, he’s just looking to compete and improve every day and prove that he can help the Buckeyes win games.
“Coach Day wasn’t giving any handouts. So I knew coming here that I’d have to work for it,” Fields said. “Of course I want to be the starter, but at the end of the day, that’s not my decision. So I’m just going to come out here and continue to get better.”
Overall, Fields believes he has “transitioned well in terms of just coming here from a different place” in his first couple months at Ohio State. He says Ohio State and Georgia “run a lot of the same passing concepts,” so that’s helped speed up the learning process.
“So really what I just have to get in tune is kind of the terminology and just knowing the names of things and just the little things that are in the offense,” Fields said.
“Of course I want to be the starter, but at the end of the day, that’s not my decision. So I’m just going to come out here and continue to get better.”– Justin Fields on his approach to spring practice
Fields feels good about the chemistry he has been establish with Ohio State’s wide receivers so far, and he credits his coaches and teammates – including Baldwin – with helping him pick up the playbook. Day, Yurcich and senior quality control coach Corey Dennis have all been working closely with the quarterbacks, and he’s enjoyed learning from all of them.
The biggest adjustment Fields says he has faced in his move from Georgia so far, as winter temperatures continue to linger in Columbus more than a week into March, is getting used to the weather.
“The weather has surprised me a lot. So I’m definitely not excited about that,” Fields said. “But other than that, everything’s going good.”
While Fields came to Ohio State with uncertainty over whether he would be eligible to play this season after transferring from Georgia, he now knows that he will be able to play this season – giving him the full opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback job without contingency – and he’s certainly glad to have that process behind him.
“It definitely changed my life,” Fields said when asked about the transfer portal on Friday. “I think it’s a good thing for athletes and everyone in the NCAA. So I feel like all athletes should just have the choice to do what’s best for them.”
Fields still needs to have a good spring to secure Ohio State’s starting quarterback job, so that’s where all his focus is now.
He isn’t trying to prove anything in particular this spring, though; he’s just trying to improve every day, learn as he goes and be the best quarterback he can be.
“I don’t want to accomplish or prove anything (specific),” Fields said. “Really, just for me, my goal was just to become the best quarterback I can be and just keep improving.”
Yurcich said Friday that it was too early to make an evaluation on how Fields stacks up against Ohio State’s other quarterbacks in their competition, and said he is still in the stage of learning where Fields is in his development and figuring out what he needs to work on. He did indicate, though, what each quarterback needs to do in order to have a chance to separate himself from the pack and win the starting job.
“I think the big thing that you’re looking for is leadership. That’s a really big focus. How the team responds to that individual. Their presence, their leadership, being able to be vocal at times,” Yurcich said. “And then it’s really performance. It’s productivity. That’s what you’re looking at. You also have to secure the football, and along those lines, there’s a lot of things that factor into it. A lot of things like knowing pass protections, knowing when to get in and out of plays, knowing when to throw the ball away, all of those things that encompass good, sound football and helping your team win football games. All of those things factor into it.”