Camp is entering the backstretch for the 2019 Ohio State Buckeyes. Following their 11th preseason practice, head coach Ryan Day addressed the media on his takeaways thus far and where certain position battles currently stand.
No time was wasted in addressing the current status of the quarterback position. Asked immediately whether he was ready to name a starting quarterback or not, Day said that decision could be coming soon.
“I think what we’re probably going to do is get through the weekend and then Monday, probably, make a final decision,” Day said of the quarterback battle. “The guys are competing really, really well. I think Justin (Fields) is practicing at a high level now and had a nice couple of days.”
Day said he felt better overall about the quarterback position than he did last week at this time, saying again that Fields has made strides lately.
“He’s moving the team nicely, taking care of the ball better in the last couple of days, throwing the ball on time,” Day said of Fields. “The improvement is there. The leadership is improving.”
The backup running back position remains a question for Day and his offense. Master Teague returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since camp opened on Aug. 2. He, along with Demario McCall, Marcus Crowley, and Steele Chambers are vying for carries behind J.K. Dobbins.
“Right now, there is no backup running back,” Day said. “I think all three guys, or four guys with Master when he gets healthy, want that spot. But they have to learn to take care of the ball. We have to be able to trust them.”
Day continued to stress ball security and trust in doing so as the primary factor in who will see the field behind Dobbins.
With wide receiver Austin Mack continuing to be sidelined throughout camp, Chris Olave, who broke out toward the end of last season, has been receiving starting reps at the z-position, with Binjimen Victor starting at the x-position. Day was asked about Olave’s talent, which he said was apparent early on, even if he wasn’t highly recruited.
“Right from the jump, you could see his ball skills, the way he could track a ball down the field was off the charts,” Day said of Olave.
Day said the main concern with Olave when he arrived last season was his size. Olave arrived on campus at 165 pounds. However, Day said Olave was deceptively strong for his size, “So, he has power. And then we put on the weight. He got stronger and changed his body. Now, we think he is an every-down receiver.”
Day later said 6-foot-5 junior Jaylen Harris and freshman Garret Wilson, who was one of the top-ranked receivers in the entire 2019 recruiting class, are battling for reps behind Victor at the x-position. He added he wants to play six or seven receivers total and mentioned sophomore Ellijah Gardiner and freshman Jameson Williams as guys he also expects to see the field.
As for the H-back position, Day said he prefers to have an even split in reps at the position, as was the case last year with K.J. Hill and Parris Campbell. Hill elected to return for his senior season and will certainly start at H-back as the most experienced playmaker in the receiving room.
Fifth-year senior C.J. Saunders and redshirt freshman and Westerville South product Jaelen Gill are competing to back up Hill. Day said, however, that if having Hill on the field presents a considerable advantage over Saunders or Gill, Hill will see more than half the snaps.
“I think K.J. is pretty complete in terms of a skillset,” Day said. “So, he can do just about everything. I think in the end, it’s just going to come down to how durable will he be late in the season, and can his stamina be sustained throughout a game?”
Asked whether the three returning starters at linebacker — Pete Werner, Tuf Borland and Malik Harrison — were being pushed at all by others, Day applauded the depth at the position and their effort in practice.
“I’m proud of the way those guys are running around,” Day said. “They’re trying to really practice tough and that’s been a huge emphasis point on defense, being one of the toughest defenses in the country and the toughest defense in the Big Ten. I think they’re practicing that way. The young guys are flashing, they’re running around.”
Junior Baron Browning has been praised for his camp performance on multiple occasions, from multiple coaches, and figures to be in the mix. Sophomore Teradja Mitchell came to Ohio State as a highly-touted recruit with obvious talent, and he started on special teams last season, often an early indicator of how ready a guy is to earn more playing time. Mitchell has been banged up throughout camp, however, although he returned to practice on Wednesday.
Day said that although there is an experience gap between the younger guys and the returning starters at linebacker, the good news for the young guys is that the entire unit is learning a new defense for the first time. He went on to say there is no current depth chart for the linebacker positions.
In regard to the entire depth chart, Day said there are still some battles that will extend into the third week of camp but said he figures to have a good idea of where guys stand by the end of this week. He said an update on starting positions can be expected on Monday.
Look for further coverage of Ohio State’s 2019 fall camp in upcoming editions of The Gazette.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.