Ohio State began spring camp with a quarterback competition between sophomore Justin Fields and redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin.
Now, however…not so much.
Doing a spring recap of the Buckeye quarterbacks from this past spring is kind of like being tasked to write about how great the harvest on Alderaan was the day after the planet was blown up. Things have kind of changed, you know?
Still, we will proceed as best we can in recapping a spring that did yield a clear leader at the quarterback position.
1 Justin Fields, Soph (6-3 223)
12 Gunnar Hoak, rJr (6-4 212) OR
4 Chris Chugunov, grSr (6-0 208)
10 Danny Vanatsky, rFr (6-1 205)
Redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin began the spring battling Justin Fields and despite evidence to the contrary throughout the spring, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day insisted that neither quarterback had moved ahead of the other. When the media was permitted to watch practice, it was primarily Fields running with the ones. Shortly after spring ball was over, Baldwin entered the transfer portal, indicating what most everyone already knew — Fields had won the job.
“In the recruiting process, I had the chance to recruit him, had a chance to watch him practice in the spring and watch his film, but not a lot of one-on-one time and seeing the way he works day in and day out. I’m very impressed with his ability to retain information, his football IQ. You forget for such a mature kid, he really hasn’t played much football at all. So it’s the same thing. Him and Matthew are in the same boat that way. Really he’s a freshman. They’re both really freshmen. When you think about that, it catches me sometimes that they were in high school last year.
“So I think that both of the guys have done a good job of grasping the information but I think, with Justin, his physical traits are tremendous, just in terms of his size, his ability to move, he’s got a strong arm, but then also he has good intangibles. He does. He understands what’s going on and he sees defenses. Justin has a good football IQ. So those are kind of the things that we’ve learned and we’re still learning as we go. It’s only 15 practices. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot and so we’ll keep building into the preseason.” — Ohio State head coach Ryan Day on his takeaways from watching Justin Fields this spring.
Following the 2018 season, it was pretty clear that Ohio State was going to be losing Dwayne Haskins early to the NFL. By December or so, it was expected that the Buckeyes would choose their 2019 starting quarterback from the trio of Tate Martell, Matthew Baldwin, or Dwan Mathis. Justin Fields’ transfer chased Martell and Mathis away immediately, and Baldwin’s departure would come a little over four months later. So Ohio State now looks ahead to their starting quarterback this season and none of the three they were looking at back in the winter are in the picture any longer. Instead, they are left with Justin Fields, which is a pretty decent fallback plan. Only Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence have better odds to win the 2019 Heisman Trophy than Fields this season.
As the old saying goes, “The transfer portal giveth and the transfer portal taketh away.” The Buckeyes may have lost Matthew Baldwin, but following spring ball at Kentucky, the portal gave Ohio State a new quarterback in Gunnar Hoak. Hoak has graduated from Kentucky, so he will be eligible this season and next season for the Buckeyes. Hoak wrapped up his spring camp with the Wildcats with a strong spring game performance. Playing for the Blue team (which was comprised of the first-team offense), Hoak completed 14-of-15 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. When playing for the White team, he completed 9-of-15 passes for 88 yards.
The lineage of quarterbacks since Troy Smith took over at Ohio State is an impressive list of college production. Smith, Todd Boeckman,
Terrelle Pryor, Braxton Miller, JT Barrett, Cardale Jones, JT Barrett again, and then Dwayne Haskins last year helped make Ohio State the premier program in the Big Ten over the last 20 years. This spring, Justin Fields began the process of adding to that lineage. He showed off an incredibly strong arm and also proved to be a dynamic runner. His arm strength is on the Haskins/Jones level and his athleticism is more Miller/Pryor than Barrett. The physical tools are there. The pinpoint accuracy of Haskins, however, is still a work in progress, and may never be there. Haskins is the most accurate quarterback in Ohio State history. If Fields falls short of that, he’s no different than every other quarterback in OSU history. But there are still plenty of reasons to be excited about Fields’ potential in a Ryan Day offense.
Gunnar Hoak is a new addition to the Ohio State quarterback room. He obviously wasn’t involved in OSU’s spring camp, but he will be very much involved in the Buckeyes’ fall camp. He will be given the same opportunity to win the starting quarterback job as Matthew Baldwin was in the spring. Hoak’s presence now gives Ohio State three scholarship quarterbacks and there is no longer a default backup. Just as the starting job will need to be won, so will the backup job. Even though Justin Fields is the expected starter, increasing the competition in camp — even if it’s for the backup job — can only help.