For a freshman quarterback who needs to be ready to play and potentially start within his first two years on campus, every practice and every opportunity to develop matters.
Unfortunately for Ohio State freshman quarterbacks Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud, they’ve already lost out on 12 of the practices they were supposed to have this spring.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak that forced the Big Ten to suspend all organized team activities until at least May, Stroud and Miller – and the rest of the Buckeyes – only had the opportunity to participate in three practices this spring. It’s uncertain when they’ll be able to get back on the field with their Ohio State teammates and coaches and practice again.
As a result, Miller and Stroud lose one of the key advantages they were supposed to have by enrolling early. Their chances of beating out Gunnar Hoak for the backup quarterback job might be decreased now. More importantly, Ohio State needs one of those quarterbacks to be ready to start in 2021 – when Justin Fields will likely be in the NFL and Hoak will have exhausted his eligibility – and their development over the next year will go a long way toward making that happen.
That development should be happening at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center right now, under the supervision of Ryan Day and Corey Dennis, where they would be working on improving their passing fundamentals, building rapport with Ohio State’s receivers and allowing their coaches to evaluate a full body of spring practices that would guide them in their next phase of preparation.
Instead, Miller is back in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Stroud is back in Rancho Cucamonga, California, which is where they will remain until it’s safe for Ohio State to reopen its athletic facilities and resume team activities.
Stroud and Miller will still be expected to do what they can to develop while they’re back home, and their coaches will do what they can to help them with that process.
“They do have access to our film, and we’re gonna do the best we can to make sure that they have everything they can to study that stuff,” Day said in a teleconference with reporters last week. “And Corey will make sure that he’s given them everything they need to try to get ahead on this thing the best they can.”
There’s no true substitution, though, for taking snaps in an actual practice – especially for a quarterback – and Day acknowledges that losing those reps will be a setback they have to overcome.
“It’s unfortunate because spring practice is so important for a young quarterback,” Day said. “Of all the people, I’d say the receivers and those two quarterbacks are the ones that are really gonna miss spring practice the most.
“You can do a lot of that stuff and watch film and do that and those guys will, and they’ll do a great job, and Corey will do a great job with them, putting the plan together, throwing plan back home where they are ... but there’s nothing like taking snaps. So the sooner we can get them under center again, the better off we’re going to be.”
Day is hopeful college football teams will have the opportunity to hold some additional workouts this summer to make up for the spring practices they lost, but that’s far from guaranteed at this point. Given the possibility that it could still be several months before the Buckeyes are able to reconvene, the coaches have to do whatever they can from afar to help their quarterbacks make up for lost time.
Ultimately, their development during their time away from campus will depend in large part on their personal discipline to do whatever they can to improve on their own, without the supervision of their coaches. If the way they worked during the one week of spring practices they had was any indication, Day expects nothing less from the two freshman quarterbacks.
“I was very impressed with how both of them came in and worked, just their approach, and the way they were able to take the offense to the field, the first three practices,” Day said.
“There’s nothing like taking snaps. So the sooner we can get them under center again, the better off we’re going to be.”– Ryan Day on the impact of Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud losing spring practices
Both quarterbacks, along with Ohio State’s other 12 early enrollee freshmen, at least had the opportunity to spend two months on campus with their new coaches and teammates and go through winter conditioning workouts, which still gives them a leg up on if they were set to arrive on campus for the first time this summer. They’ve already started to build connections with their wideouts, receive in-person instruction from their coaches and get their first taste of live practices as a Buckeye, putting them ahead of where they’d be ahead if they hadn’t enrolled in January.
And there’s still plenty of time for them to develop before either is likely to start a game for the Buckeyes. Unlike last year, when the loss of spring practices would have been a massive blow to Fields’ preparation to start after he arrived in January, Ohio State has a returning starting quarterback this year, and Fields shouldn’t need a ton of offseason practice time to be ready for the season.
Day was already expecting Ohio State’s backup quarterback competition to continue into preseason camp, and that will certainly be the case now. If the Buckeyes don’t have the opportunity to recoup the practices they’ve lost, though, they won’t have as many opportunities to evaluate the progress of Miller and Stroud and coach them on the field, which could leave more question marks about whether they’ll be ready to play if needed this fall and how far each of them still needs to go to be Ohio State’s potential starting quarterback of the future.
Whenever they do get back to campus, though, expect both of them to be anxious to get back to work on the field.
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“I think we're both here for the same goal. We want to win a national championship here. And that's going to be the goal, whatever it takes,” Miller said during an interview session in February. “We're both gonna just work our tails off and do whatever we can for the team.”
Both of them have visions of being Ohio State’s starting quarterback of the future, and while it could take longer for either of them to separate themselves in the competition between them because of the lack of spring practices, they’ve both expressed a desire to simply develop as much as possible in their first year on campus.
“I’m just gonna go in there and work, put my head down and just work, and when I look up I wanna be on top,” Stroud said in January. “But I’m just gonna let God handle it. I’m not worried about anything.”