When Matthew Baldwin announced his decision to transfer from Ohio State just days after the spring game in April, it appeared that the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback competition was over.
Ryan Day says that’s not the case.
Justin Fields has been the presumptive frontrunner to start at quarterback ever since he arrived at Ohio State in January as a highly touted transfer from Georgia, and this spring – in which he took most of the first-team quarterback reps over Baldwin – didn’t change that.
That said, the Buckeyes brought in Gunnar Hoak as a graduate transfer from Kentucky this spring, and Day said Hoak will get a shot to compete for the starting quarterback job in preseason camp.
“He’s going to come in and he’s going to get reps with the ones and he’s going to compete for the starting job,” Day said Wednesday. “He’s got to learn in short order. He’s a little bit behind in terms of the couple months that we had in the spring, he wasn’t here. But he’s also really, really sharp, I think he’ll pick it up quick, and then let the competition begin in August.”
While it might have appeared that Fields locked up the starting job this spring when Baldwin decided to transfer, Day says that wasn’t the case. That’s not to say that Fields did anything to lose the starting quarterback job this spring, either; Day considered the spring as an opportunity for Fields to learn in his first 15 practices as a Buckeye more than an opportunity for him to win the job.
“Justin got here in February, and he did not win the job, but that wasn’t part of the spring,” Day said. “The spring was just to try to get some 15 practices under our belt, and learn the offense, but now in the preseason is where the real competition goes.”
Day said he likes what he has seen from Fields in his time at Ohio State so far, but that there’s no substitute for his lack of experience, as Fields was at Georgia for just one year and has never started a college football game.
“This is somebody who has so much talent, and physically God gave him a ton of gifts, but learning to play the position is something you learn through experience,” Day said. “But he's done a good job so far, he's been working really, really hard in the weight room, he's been doing a good job studying film.”
Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich said that while Fields has the tools to be successful, he still has to prove in preseason camp that he can run Ohio State’s offense at a consistently high level.
“I think he’s still trying to set himself apart from everybody,” Yurcich said. “He’s got a very live arm; he’s got really good feet. Obviously, physically, being 225 pounds and being able to run as fast as he can makes him a special, unique individual. Now we can talk about that all we want. We still have to produce. We still have to make plays.
“The guy hasn’t taken a snap yet, so for us to sit here and talk about how good he is, he has to prove it,” Yurcich continued. “He has to start to prove it in fall camp.”
If Fields isn’t the first quarterback on the field for Ohio State in its season opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31, that would certainly come as a surprise. He was the No. 2 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2018, and he didn’t transfer to Columbus to be a backup. Hoak comes to Ohio State with three years of experience at an SEC school while Fields had just one, but Fields still appeared in more games at Georgia (12) than Hoak did at Kentucky (five) and has higher upside.
He’s still going to have to prove he’s the Buckeyes’ best quarterback in the weeks leading up to the season, though, because Day and Yurcich like what they have in Hoak, too – even though he hasn’t had the chance to practice for Ohio State yet.
“He's a guy who fits our system,” Yurcich said of Hoak. “He's a very cerebral guy. I think he has been coached really well. Being in college football for a number of years he is a little bit more ahead of the curve than, say, a true freshman. He's a very intelligent guy.”