As Justin Fields gets ready to audition in front of NFL scouts today as part of Ohio State’s Pro Day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day is hard at work trying to identify Fields’ successor as spring practice rolls on.
For the first time during his tenure in Columbus, Day has a full-blown quarterback competition on his hands, one that is expected to go well into fall camp. And while Jack Miller, C.J. Stroud, and Kyle McCord are each bringing considerable talent to the practice field, practice reps are all Day will have to evaluate given the nearly nonexistent game film available for either of the three candidates.
“The first thing is there’s just not game experience, there’s not a lot of practice experience, and there’s not a lot of snaps,” Day said of evaluating the race during Monday’s press conference. “Because of that, it’s like when you ride a bike. You don’t just jump on a bike and start riding. You fall down some. So, there’s going to be growing pains along the way. You just have to be willing to work through those. Justin (Fields) had his (mistakes), Dwayne (Haskins) had his, Joe (Burrow) had his, J.T. (Barrett) had his. Every quarterback has their things that they work through.
“What you’d like is you’d like for them to learn through a couple of years in the program, and then by the time that they get on the field, they’ve kind of worked through a lot of those things. Well, in today’s day and age, we don’t have the luxury of doing that. So, these guys are gonna kind of jump two feet in the pool, and they just gotta go and learn how to swim quickly.”
Day said that while the mistakes are going to come, it will be imperative to see how quickly each quarterback can learn from those mistakes. “If we start to see the same mistake twice, then that’s going to be an issue,” he said.
Another facet Day will closely be monitoring with his quarterbacks is their levels of preparation and “how well they can solve the issues of the day,” which will also go a long way in helping them to cut down on mistakes.
“I think that is so much of being a quarterback,” Day said. “When you look at the greatest there are in the game, maybe they’re not the most talented, but they’re certainly the most skilled and disciplined, and that’s what these guys are working on now.”
While Day said there isn’t currently much to share on the competition, he said of his trio, “They all throw the ball well. The ball comes out of their hands well. But they still need to work on consistency with those areas and the different things fundamentally and technique-wise that make them more consistent.”
Of course, at the very top of Day’s priority list as he evaluates his young quarterbacks will be how each of them takes care of the football. Day said bad ball security will quickly doom any player’s chances of competing for playing time.
“The guys who turn the ball over aren’t going to last very long as the quarterback at Ohio State,” Day said.
In a normal year, it would be fair to presume McCord has a steep mountain to climb in order to close the gap between himself and two equally-touted former recruits in Stroud and Miller. McCord, who arrived on campus in January as an early enrollee, is still adjusting to life away from home while his competition enters year two in the offense.
But given the way last year played out for the Buckeyes, and their struggles to maintain large leads, live snaps were difficult to come by for many backups. The lack of secondary repetitions was especially true at the quarterback position, and Stroud and Miller combined for just a handful of snaps through eight games, none of which resulted in a passing attempt.
Asked on Monday if McCord has a clearer path to potentially winning the starting job as a true freshman than would typically be the case, given the lack of disparity in game action, Day acknowledged only that there is certainly no incumbent to beat out, and the job remains very much open for all three to assert themselves.
But rather than try to do too much, too soon, however, Day said each quarterback can’t get caught up in the daily competition. Rather, he said the trio needs to focus on stacking together good, positive days as they work toward the ultimate goal of winning the job.
“I think the thing for those guys, the other way to look at it is you can’t win the job in one day,” Day said. “You can’t win the job with one throw, either. You have to just build over time, and that’s important to understand. I think it’s easy when you’re young to try to force the action, to try to win the job. But it doesn’t come that way. It comes over time, with a body of work, and that body of work is being built.”