COLUMBUS — No luxury is greater for a head coach entering spring practice than peace of mind at the game’s most important position. For Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, however, it’s a luxury he’s seldom been afforded during his tenure in Columbus.
Since joining Urban Meyer’s staff in 2017 before eventually succeeding him in 2019, Day has had to groom three different quarterbacks in preparation for their first career starts the following fall. Justin Fields’ redshirt sophomore campaign of 2020 marks the lone opportunity Day has had to build on starting experience with his signal-caller.
The 2022 season will provide a welcomed change of pace for Day as quarterback C.J. Stroud returns following a sensational redshirt freshman season that ranked among the best in program history. Stroud threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns last year while tossing just six interceptions en route to earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and a fourth-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting.
The fact Stroud’s prolific year came despite having never attempted a collegiate pass previously was a remarkable feat and one that offers tantalizing thoughts of what could be in store for the Buckeye offense this season. Now in year two together, Day and Stroud will be able to move to the advanced stages of playing the position that, along with the plethora of weapons at their disposal, should lead to another offensive juggernaut.
“At this point last year, he hadn’t thrown a college pass, and now he has a whole year under his belt,” Day said on Tuesday. “You’re kind of learning what to do (in year one) and now you kind of learn why you do it. It’s just a little more of a deeper understanding of things. There’s a little bit of a Rolodex of plays under his belt. We’re going to look at some new concepts, too, some things he can handle, and maybe put a little bit more on his plate on the line of scrimmage and different things there.
“When you think about guys who have played in the NFL for 15-20 years at quarterback, this is just year two (for Stroud) and it feels great because you feel like you have a guy who has been around for a long time. We’ve only had that one other time here with Justin (Fields), so it is exciting going into the season having somebody who has a whole year under his belt.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson praised Stroud’s mental capacity for the position and all its details, saying his abilities above the shoulders rival the obvious physical talents that have Stroud on everyone’s NFL radar ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. As a result, Wilson feels Stroud will be able to shoulder much more of the pre-snap diagnostics often coming from the sideline and press box.
“I think there can be more on his plate where he can handle the ability to adjust plays and protections … He can handle a lot mentally,” Wilson said. “He is extremely gifted and talented, but he is equally as smart and as equally aware with his ability to see and put it all together. It’s uniquely high, so I think we can just put a little bit more on his plate. I think Ryan (Day) has a phenomenal amount of confidence in (C.J.)’s ability to get protections right and get the ball out to the right guys and not force it.”
As is the case with any college athlete, of course, there remains the possibility that Stroud settles into his newfound success and doesn’t commit himself to take the next step toward becoming elite. With all of the attention, praise, and, now, NIL opportunities that come with being a star at Ohio State, complacency would, in ways, be understandable.
However, Day said on Tuesday that concerns of complacency are a non-factor with a player like Stroud, who never ceases to feel like he needs to prove himself.
“I think when you dive into C.J. you realize he’s highly motivated,” Day said. “Just the way he came out and played in that Rose Bowl, you can see that he comes out with the mindset that he has something to prove every day. He does. That’s just the way he’s wired. I think that’s what gives him an opportunity to be great. Is he great yet? No, he’s not. But he’s on his way there, and I think it’s that approach of, ‘I have to prove myself every single day.’ I think that’s just the way he was brought up, the way things have happened in his life, and I expect him to be that way throughout this spring and into the preseason and next year.”