Will Howard and Devin Brown Look Like Frontrunners in Quarterback Competition in Spring Game, But Ohio State Isn’t Ready to Name A Starter Yet

By Dan Hope on April 13, 2024 at 8:17 pm
Devin Brown, Will Howard and Julian Sayin

Ohio State’s quarterback competition wasn’t won or lost by either Will Howard or Devin Brown in Saturday’s spring game.

Simply put, the two frontrunners to be Ohio State’s starting quarterback didn’t get enough reps in the spring game for either one to stake a clear claim for the job. Each of them was on the field for only two drives in the first half before the Buckeyes gave their younger quarterbacks the rest of the reps, as most of the spring game’s starters did not play at all in the second half.

Brown had the best day among the quarterbacks statistically, throwing the day’s only touchdown pass on an 11-yard strike to walk-on receiver Brennen Schramm and completing five passes for 66 yards on just seven attempts to lead all quarterbacks in yards per attempt. Howard’s four attempts at throwing a touchdown pass fell incomplete, continuing a trend of struggling with longer throws that had been apparent in spring practices that were open to the media. Still, he completed all of his other nine passing attempts for 77 yards.

While Brown had been at the front of the quarterback order for most of the spring, Howard got the starting nod on Saturday, creating the appearance that the more experienced Kansas State transfer is still the frontrunner for the job. But neither head coach Ryan Day nor offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Kelly gave much indication about which way they’re leaning in their comments during the postgame press conference.

“I wouldn't say that I'm going to make any declarations right now. But we'll look at the film and see what it looks like and then decide where to go from there,” Day said. “But I don't have much to say about it right now.”

Kelly said he couldn’t put an exact timetable on when Ohio State will name a starting quarterback, noting that the coaches won’t be back on the practice field with the quarterbacks throwing until August, but said he believes the competition will eventually sort itself out without the coaches having to force a decision.

“You always want to do it earlier. But I also believe every time I've been involved in this is that it kind of happens organically and authentically,” Kelly said. “Because the players know. If you say, ‘Hey, we decided we're going to be with Joe,’ and they all think it's Tim, they know. They're in the locker room with them every day. Players understand who they feel is the guy, and most of the time, the decision is very obvious. And you just say, ‘Hey, this is where we are with it.’”

Asked specifically about Howard, Day said he was impressed by Howard’s pocket presence and thought he had a good showing overall in his Ohio Stadium debut, even though it wasn’t perfect.

“I think that over the spring, the timing is increasing, it's getting better over and over again. I think the more reps that all these guys get the better,” Day said. “He had some nice completions in there. And I think there was a sack in there, maybe he held onto it a little too long. And wind was going pretty hard today, so I think we underthrew a couple balls. But overall, I thought he had at least had a good comfort level for the first drive in the Shoe.”

Going into the spring game, the quarterback who was generating the most buzz was true freshman Julian Sayin, who Day had said Wednesday was “in the mix” for the starting competition. That push may have lost some steam on Saturday. While Sayin ultimately finished the day with a game-high 85 passing yards on 10 completions and 17 attempts, most of his yardage came late in the game when the Buckeyes were playing deep into their depth chart. Sayin struggled on his first few drives in the game, throwing one interception to fellow freshman Jaylen McClain and nearly throwing another to Aaron Scott Jr.

Furthermore, the fact that Howard and Brown took all of the snaps behind the first-team offensive line while Lincoln Kienholz, Sayin and Air Noland saw all of their work with backups suggested that Brown and Howard were the two quarterbacks being seriously evaluated in the starting competition on Saturday, though Sayin drew high praise from Kelly after the game.

“Julian is a very fast processor. He really thinks very, very quickly on his feet. He makes really quick decisions. He doesn't stick on reads. He can progress and he sees things really well for a young player,” Kelly said. “(Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles) can make a young freshman quarterback cry with some of the stuff he does. But I never saw that with Jules. And that's been impressive is his ability to retain. Him and (freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Smith), the compliment I would say to them is if you got here and you didn't know what class they were in, you wouldn't say that those guys were freshmen in terms of how they picked things up.

“Sometimes freshmen act like freshmen, but the guys who are special, they don't act like freshmen. They act like they're football players. And those are two guys that are examples of that.”

Now that spring practices are complete, the immediate question surrounding the quarterback room is whether its numbers will be thinned by transfer attrition over the next two-and-a-half weeks. The transfer portal reopens on Tuesday and will remain open through April 30, giving any player who isn’t comfortable with his standing on the depth chart an opportunity to explore his options elsewhere.

“Players understand who they feel is the guy and most of the time, the decision is very obvious.”– Chip Kelly on picking a starting quarterback

Kelly says the coaches will meet with all of their players this upcoming week to give them feedback on where they stand coming out of spring practices, and they’re well aware of the urgency to do so with the impending portal opening. But Kelly also said those meetings this week will simply be an extension of the ongoing communication they’ve had with their players all spring.

“We'll give them our assessment,” Kelly said. “But we do it after every day. They know where they stood after practice one, after two, after three, after four. We grade everything. They're getting constant feedback in terms of where we are. And then after 15, which we had today. But we can't do it unless you watch the film.”

Once the transfer portal dominoes fall and Ohio State knows how many quarterbacks it will still have on its roster this fall, Day and Kelly will have to decide whether it’s time to narrow the competition down and be more intentional about how they distribute reps in preseason camp. The lack of drives for Brown and Howard on Saturday was partially a result of the Buckeyes’ efforts this spring to split reps among all five of their scholarship quarterbacks, which Kelly felt they all deserved.

That said, he believes the quarterback made the most of the reps they got to give the coaches plenty to evaluate coming out of spring and put them in a good position to take the next step in the quarterback competition when the Buckeyes resume practicing in August.

“We got a lot of guys there. That part's tough, I think, because there's guys that deserve reps and they're all competing for it,” Kelly said. “But they capitalized on them, we really rolled them … and as we talk about all the time, the old adage is ‘Don't count your reps, make your reps count.’ And we'll put it all together and really come up with, which guy do we really feel is gonna help us move this offense?”

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