The quarterback battle at Ohio State will be the biggest on-field story for the Buckeyes until the competition is settled, and it doesn’t look like that resolution is coming anytime soon.
Sophomore Justin Fields came from Georgia to compete against redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin and redshirt sophomore Tate Martell. With Martell’s transfer to Miami, the competition is down to just two men, but there is no less intrigue.
Ohio State is still in the early stages of spring practice, but it hasn’t taken head coach Ryan Day long to see some good things from his guys.
“Only five practices in, pretty excited,” he said this weekend. “Both of those guys haven’t started before so we’re kind of in that mold of finding a new quarterback and in the short period of time, they’re taking their reps serious. Not every play is perfect. It’s the third day of pads. We’re still in the install mode, we’re installing plays and sometimes they’re running plays for the first or second time ever.”
Baldwin has been in the Ohio State system for an entire year now, but he did more watching than throwing last season. For Fields, this is all new. Despite the inexperience, Day is seeing positives.
“Sometimes they’re hearing plays for the first time, they’re seeing the signals,” he said. “But I think they’ve had some poise out there, moved the football, they’ve been throwing the ball. Our defense is a good defense and so they’re going up against a good defense every day. It’s a good start, got a long way to go but very, very encouraged.”
Before Martell left, he famously said that it takes an entire year to understand the Ohio State offense. Martell was doubtful that Fields would be able to come in and pick up the offense quick enough and well enough to start this season. According to Day, however, Fields is understanding the system pretty well.
“Yeah, he is,” Day said. “He’s a pretty quick learner and in five practices, he’s kind of moving the offense. He’s got a long way to go but he’s picking it up pretty quickly. And we have a lot of offense. We don’t run the same play twice very often. So there’s a lot being thrown at the quarterbacks and I think he and the other quarterbacks are handling it really well, putting it on the field.”
Each day is a new learning experience for all of the quarterbacks, which is why it is important for each of them to get enough reps for the coaches to begin making decisions. More importantly than that, however, they want a bunch of reps because that’s the only way to get better, especially for a guy who was at Georgia a year ago.
“It’s hard to do something for the first time and [be] really good at it,” Day said. “So we’ve just got to keep getting multiple and multiple reps and reps and reps. The more reps you get, the better off you are. But you can usually tell early on with the quarterbacks if they can pick things up quickly. Justin’s done a good job of that.”
As to who is currently in the lead in this competition, Day isn’t talking.
Fields was with the ones during the open practice on Saturday, but Day was adamant that both quarterbacks are going to get an opportunity to win — or lose — the job.
“[Justin Fields] hasn’t been taking all the reps with the ones,” he said. “Matt’s taken reps with the ones. It’s one of those things, we’re going to try to split up the reps the best we can, and Matt has taken reps with the ones and he will continue to take reps with the ones, and the guys have got to do a good job of taking those opportunities and being successful with them.
“It’s like anything else, when you get an opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of those things. So we’ll continue to split the reps up and let those guys compete.”