A quarterback’s need to learn through failure is one of the reasons coaches put their young quarterbacks on the field in blowouts. Their mistakes won’t lose the game, but it will allow them to grow and gain experience.
Look at Dwayne Haskins in 2017.
Before he entered The Game in Ann Arbor, he had a redshirt year in 2016 and had already experienced the lows of a pick six and a scoop-and-score lost fumble earlier in the 2017 season. He had played in seven games before that trip to Michigan. He was ready and had learned from his mistakes.
Haskins’ Ohio State story has now been written, which means it is time for a new story.
Justin Fields is expected to be that guy this year, and even though he played in almost every game for Georgia last year, he won’t have the same luxury of failure that Haskins did.
Buckeyes’ head coach Ryan Day knows that there is no way around learning from failure, other than preparing for it to happen and dealing with it as it comes. This is the price of bringing in a transfer like Fields, but the rewards are expected to be well worth it.
“What I know about [Fields] is physically he checks all the boxes – running, athleticism, size, power, throwing ability, arm strength, accuracy, intelligence. He has all those things,” Day said.
“Now it’s just a matter in August of putting it on the field and seeing what kind of product we have. But in order to learn you have to fail. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of failing a lot in practice and spending a few years as an understudy. Some of those failures are going to happen in a game and there’s going to be a lot of deep breaths. But in the end the good news is we’ve got a chance for a high ceiling.”
Getting Fields to transfer in the winter allowed him to take part in the spring and begin some of that necessary failure process.
The Buckeyes lost Matthew Baldwin to transfer after spring camp, but brought in Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak to strengthen the quarterback room.
Right now, because Hoak has yet to camp for the Buckeyes, Fields is out in front. But everybody — maybe even the position coach — is still learning.
“[Fields] learned the offense in the spring,” Day said. “He’s a step ahead of Gunnar because Gunnar just got here and didn’t even go through the spring. That room is really, really green. Chris Chugunov is in there, he’s going to be competing and fighting for playing time. And Mike Yurcich is new to our staff too, so the whole room is literally in the first step of the progression. We did a good job in the spring of picking that up.”
Following spring, Fields did what all quarterbacks need to do, and he threw in the offseason with his receivers. His coaches can’t be with him nearly as much as they’d like, which only heightens their concerns about getting him ready.
That being said, the offseason went as well as they could have hoped for.
“Yeah, they’ve been going well, all reports are coming back really strong,” Day said. ” He’s taking a lot of responsibility of going out there with those guys and throwing on their own. It’s been going positive and in talking to the receivers and some of the other guys they say it’s going really, really well. But we’ll find out in August once we get on the field and start with practice.”
Day would have loved a year where failure would have been okay for Fields. There are ways to build in those buffers for young quarterbacks. For a backup, you know it’s going to be late in the game when you’re already up by four touchdowns. When it is your starter, however, it’s hard to know just when those mistakes might come.
Day knows mistakes will be made, and they’ll need to handle them as a team when it happens.
The key for Fields will be eliminating those mistakes as each week progresses and doing it as quickly as possible.
The sooner Day and Yurcich can then stop worrying about those mistakes, the sooner they can move to the next step with Justin Fields and make the Ohio State offense even more difficult to defend.