It’s easy to forget how young Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin still are.
The two quarterbacks who are competing to be Ohio State’s starter this season should technically still be just freshmen in college. Both of them graduated from high school early and enrolled in college in January 2018, but Baldwin has still only been in Columbus for a little over 15 months, while Fields – who transferred to Ohio State after one year at Georgia – has been in Columbus for just over three months.
It’s important for Ryan Day and Ohio State’s coaching staff to remember that when analyzing how Fields and Baldwin performed this spring.
Fields was ranked as the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2018, while Baldwin is also highly regarded by the Buckeyes for his throwing ability, but Baldwin has never played an actual college football game – he redshirted last year while recovering from a knee injury – while Fields is still in his first semester as an Ohio State student-athlete after playing in 12 games (but no starts) for Georgia last season.
Given that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that both of them still have a long way to go in their development.
“These guys, they should have been in high school at this time last year,” Day said after Saturday’s spring game. “They’re still a work in progress, they’re still growing, they’re still making mistakes. So to say we know where they are in terms of finished product, it’s hard to tell and they still have a long way to go.”
That was apparent in Saturday’s spring game, in which both Buckeye quarterbacks had uneven performances. Fields completed just 4-of-13 passing attempts for 131 yards, with most of those yards coming on a 98-yard touchdown connection with Binjimen Victor. Baldwin completed 20-of-36 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions.
Even though Day isn’t ready to name a starting quarterback yet, saying he expects the competition between Fields and Baldwin to continue into preseason camp, he said he “thought both of them had positive days” on Saturday.
“I think that they both did a good job today,” Day said. “They both flashed at times. Still a work in progress. We still got work to do. But I thought that they gave some of the receivers a chance.”
“They’re still a work in progress, they’re still growing, they’re still making mistakes. So to say we know where they are in terms of finished product, it’s hard to tell and they still have a long way to go.”– Ryan Day on Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin
Fields, though, wasn’t satisfied with his performance, saying he would give himself a grade of C-plus for the day.
“I’m very hard on myself, so I’m kind of a perfectionist,” Fields said. “I know I can do better. I’ve done better in practice.”
Baldwin was not among the Ohio State players who spoke to the media following Saturday’s game; Ohio State sports information director Jerry Emig said he planned to ask Baldwin to attend the postgame interview session, but did not have a chance to catch up with Baldwin before the quarterback left the locker room.
Although Saturday wasn’t a spectacular day for either quarterback, it was an important milestone for both signal-callers, as it was the closest either has come to taking a snap in an actual game for the Buckeyes. And it marked the conclusion of a spring in which both Day and their teammates believed they improved significantly.
“Wow, they’ve made a ton of strides,” wide receiver C.J. Saunders said. “They were already good at the beginning of spring, and now, I’ve just seen both of them step up as leaders so much.”
Fellow wide receiver K.J. Hill said he has seen both Fields and Baldwin become more confident and more comfortable over the course of the spring.
“They stay in the pocket now, they were kind of shook in there at the beginning, but now they’re standing firm, going through their progressions,” Hill said.
After playing exclusively for the Gray team alongside members of the first-team offense on Saturday, Fields remains the presumed frontrunner to win the starting job. Baldwin also played several series for Gray, but he spent most of the game playing for Scarlet and the second-team offense.
Fields hasn’t won the job yet, and he knows he must continue to make strides in order to make that happen. If he’s going to establish himself as the starting quarterback, Fields knows he must also establish himself as a leader for the Buckeyes’ offense.
“I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface,” Fields said. “I think I need to improve in every aspect of my game. Running, passing, just getting better. I feel like there’s always a place to improve, no matter how good you get.”
Right guard Wyatt Davis believes Fields already came a long way as a leader this spring, though, which gives him confidence in Fields’ potential for continued growth.
“When Justin first came in, he was still trying to figure everything out, and he’s really taken that step on being vocal, being confident in his calls and what he wants us to do,” Davis said. “Just his overall swagger, having a quarterback who’s confident like that, it helps us get going and he’s really taken a role in becoming that leader that we need.
“You can see the progression that he’s had from when he first got here to now,” Davis continued. “He’s definitely taken that lead of controlling the offense, and I feel like as the season goes on and as we get closer to the season, he’s going to get better with that.”