Some players are better leaders than others. It can come naturally for some, and in others it can be taught.
Not everyone is necessarily capable of leading, but they better be if they’re going to play quarterback.
JT Barrett was a fantastic leader. Kenny Guiton was a captain as a backup. For a time, Dwayne Haskins simply let his play provide the way. Eventually, however, the quiet Haskins had to become more than just a lead-by-example guy.
With Haskins now off to the NFL, the process of building the proper kind of leader at quarterback at Ohio State is well underway.
Justin Fields is the expected starter, but everyone at the quarterback position is tasked with becoming a leader. Much of that process takes place now, both in the weight room with strength coach Mickey Marotti and on the practice field through voluntary work.
“I know Coach Mick will do a great job with those quarterbacks and put them in positions to see what their leadership skills are like,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said recently. “Do they show toughness and competitive spirit and all that kind of stuff? From there, it will be an interesting August when we get started throwing the real football.”
Coaches can watch workouts themselves, but they also rely on reports from the strength staff. Leading in the weight room can mean many different things, but something all coaches want to see is players bringing other players with them. Show up early, but don’t show up alone. They want leaders to bring their teammates along with them.
When it comes to leading the way on the practice field, there are specifics that quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich wants to see.
“Play urgently,” he said. “Play urgently. Everything has to be faster, the urgency of your drop, the urgency of your progressions, the urgency to prepare and utilize the day as best you can. To study film with a hunger and a desire to be the best you can possibly be. That’s what we’re trying to get done with all of our guys.”
“I think he’s really good with that. He understands it. He’s well ahead of the curve as far as that goes,” Yurcich said. “That’s the thing from a coaching standpoint, that always needs to increase. We always have to press upon the learning and the preparation. That’s what we control. The things that we can control are the things that we emphasize.”
Fields is doing what it takes to be ready to play the quarterback position, which will allow him to lead by example. Quarterbacks also have to be vocal leaders, which was something that the coaching staff worked hard on with Dwayne Haskins a year ago.
It was easy to see that Haskins could make any throw needed and he understood the ins and outs of the offense, but he was a quiet assassin, and they needed him to get a whole lot louder. So they forced it out it him until he found is voice.
If the Ohio State staff finds Fields to be a bit too quiet, they’ll make sure he raises his voice. Eventually, the hope is that it would become second nature on and off the field.
“How do you get good at talking in front of people? You just force the issue,” Wilson said. “Like a year ago, we would have told you at this time that Dwayne would not speak up in front of the guys, so he needs to get out there in front of the guys talking. That was one of the things we were trying to raise. As a young player, he would be very quiet in front of his offense. We would be like, ‘You need to speak up and have better command and presence.’
“In this day and age, kids just don’t talk. They’re on their phones and texting, they talk with their thumbs. It’s teaching a guy how to stand, and we just had to force it. We would have meetings and he would have to call out the play like he’s in front — and we would all be yelling: ‘Louder! Speak up!’
“It’s just getting comfortable and getting used to doing it. That’s not a new thing, that happens with a lot of guys. And so there are a lot of things you can develop, and you can develop leadership, you can develop communication skills, and that’s as much a part of coaching as how to run a curl route or pick up a twist.”