Justin Fields will have been on Ohio State’s campus for less than eight months, while Gunnar Hoak will have been on campus for less than three months, when the Buckeyes open their season against Florida Atlantic at Ohio Stadium on Aug. 31.
That’s far from an ideal amount of time for the top two quarterbacks on Ohio State’s depth chart to be able to learn the Buckeyes’ offense and work with their new coaches and teammates before they need to be ready to play this fall.
The limitations that college football coaches face on how much they are allowed to actually coach their players during the offseason makes that challenge even greater.
While Fields and Hoak are going through lifting and conditioning workouts led by Mickey Marotti and the rest of Ohio State’s strength and conditioning staff this summer, coaches are not allowed to conduct practices that include throwing and catching of actual footballs until preseason camp begins in late July or early August. They’re also limited to just eight hours per week in which they are allowed to meet with players during the summer.
New Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich will take advantage of as much time as they can between now and the start of the season to work with Fields, Hoak and the rest of Ohio State’s quarterbacks and accelerate their preparation as much as possible.
Since they can’t conduct practices or meet with their players as much as they would like right now, though, Day and Yurcich say it is crucial for their quarterbacks to spend time throwing to their receivers and studying the playbook on their own over the next couple months.
“There's throwing on his own with the receivers and the tight ends and running backs; he has to do that the summer on his own, we can't do that with him,” Day said Wednesday when asked specifically about Fields, though he added that was important for all of the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks. “You can actually take the iPads home and watch film, and we have so much film to go off of the last couple of years, studying it in your dorm. So it can't just be the eight hours of the week, it's got to be more than that on his own.”
Day said he has been pleased with the effort Fields has put into lifting and studying film this offseason. He appears to be putting in the necessary offseason work with his receivers, as well; during a portion of Ohio State’s football camp for high school prospects at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Thursday, Fields could be seen throwing passes inside the team’s indoor facility to a group of receivers that included seniors K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor.
While Fields has only been at Ohio State since January, he at least had the benefit of going through spring practices with the Buckeyes, giving him the opportunity to operate Ohio State’s offense and build rapport with his receivers on the practice field and inside Ohio Stadium during the spring game.
Hoak, who just arrived at Ohio State for summer classes after graduating from Kentucky in May, will not have the opportunity to go through any football practices with the Buckeyes until fall camp, forcing him to learn Ohio State’s offense and get ready for the start of the season on an even more accelerated timeline.
“You only have a certain amount of meeting times, so you hope the individual has that internal drive to be a guy who can work on his own and, really, be a football junkie on his own,” Yurcich said. “You try your best to be organized and maximize your meeting times. It’s important to do that. A lot of that has to be on their own.”
That’s a real cause for concern for the Buckeyes, as their only returning scholarship quarterback from last season is Chris Chugunov, a graduate transfer from West Virginia who was never expected to be a starter when he was brought in last summer. Fields is likely to be the starter and has tremendous upside, but whether he will have a full command of Ohio State's offense when the season begins remains a major question mark, and the Buckeyes need Hoak to be ready to play as needed, too.
Day and Yurcich are confident, though, that Fields and Hoak have the intelligence and work ethic they need to be able to develop rapidly and put themselves in a position to succeed despite their lack of time at Ohio State.
“We’ve been blessed with a lot of young men who are conscientious and put the team first,” Yurcich said. “Those are the kind of things you do when you’re a team guy.”