The 2019 Ohio State Buckeyes have their starting quarterback, at least for the first series of the season opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31.
Ryan Day announced Georgia transfer Justin Fields as the starter following the Buckeyes’ Monday practice. However, Day would not commit to Fields past the first snaps of the season opener.
“I think all quarterbacks have done a good job this camp,” Day said. “I met with those guys and told them all this really means is Justin (Fields) will be taking the first snap on Saturday, and where it goes from there, who knows?”
Day said while all quarterbacks were having a good camp, Fields began separating himself over the past week. Asked why he took the approach of waiting to name a starter, Day said anytime a starter is being named, that player has to earn that right, which requires play on the field.
“It’s very hard to earn a job with 15 practices in the spring and then walking into preseason camp,” Day said. “You don’t just give somebody a job. Never believed in that and never will … you need reps to show what you can do.”
Day said Fields had a good feel for the offense following spring practice but “was nowhere near ready to be the starter for this offense.”
A week into preseason camp, Day said Fields still wasn’t there, making too many mistakes and turning the ball over. While Day still doesn’t feel Fields is where he needs to be, he said he believes Fields is starting to “scratch the surface,” having performed at a “starter level” over the past week.
Day said of what he was looking for in naming a starter, “You have to prove to your teammates and coaches that you’re worthy of being a starter, and a lot comes with that. Leadership, ability to control the offense, making checks upfront, protection checks, making good reads in the run game, locating the football, taking care of the football.”
Fields graded as a champion in their latest scrimmage, Day said, and there was confidence among the offense toward Fields in leading the offense down the field, which Day said plays a significant role in identifying a starting quarterback.
Asked if Fields’ skillset will change the offensive gameplan, Day said their approach would remain mostly the same.
“It’s going to be very, very similar,” he said. “His skill set, he has a lot of different things that Dwayne (Haskins) had. (Fields) is a little more athletic, faster, stronger, and he can run. But it will be very similar. You’ll see the same type of plays. We’re not all of the sudden going to go drastically different. We’ll probably emphasize some different packages with him, but for the most part, it will still be the Ohio State offense.”
Day said Fields took the news in stride, understanding he has been given an opportunity but there is still much work to do.
Fields said he was excited following the news and thanked everyone in the quarterback room for helping him to get to this point. Asked where he felt he has improved the most since his January arrival in Columbus, Fields said he has grown in every part of the game.
“I feel way more comfortable than in the spring, and I think all of my teammates see that,” Fields said. In particular, he cited his pocket awareness and speed of reads as areas of growth. However, he said he knows he’s not yet where he needs to be and will continue to work on all facets of his game to get there.
“I’m not trying to do anything special,” he said when asked if there was a point he felt like he had asserted himself in the competition to be the starter. “We have a plan to win, and we go over it pretty much every team meaning. So, it’s just doing my job and taking care of the football. I’ve been practicing that and doing all the little things right and just trying to lead the offense and become a leader for the team.”
Senior wide receiver K.J. Hill said he has seen a significant difference in Fields since the beginning of camp. Hill said Fields looks comfortable and has begun to carry himself as if he is the starting quarterback.
Asked how Fields compares to recent quarterbacks Hill has caught passes from, he said, “He’s different. I feel like I can put him in that Cam Newton category. (Fields) has some wheels on him, he can fly. So, that can open it up for us.”
Behind Fields, the quarterback depth chart remains unclear. Day said Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak’s rate of development is comparable to where Fields was coming out of spring practice. He said the decision on who would come in should Fields have to come off the field against Florida Atlantic would be decided as game week gets closer.
Seven captains selected
In addition to naming Fields the starter for the season opener, Day announced the 2019 Ohio State team captains, voted on by the team.
Those captains will be safety Jordan Fuller, defensive ends Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young, running back J.K. Dobbins, linebacker Tuf Borland, and wide receivers C.J. Saunders and K.J. Hill.
The selections were announced to the team Monday morning following the team’s vote. Day said of the vote and outcome, “They did an unbelievable job selecting. I talked to them before about what it means to be an Ohio State captain, the tradition that comes with it, the guys that have come before them. Also, you’re not voting for your best friend or your buddy. You’re voting for somebody that’s going to represent the school, somebody that you respect. I thought they did a great job.”
Day called it “cool” to have multiple two-time captains in Borland and Fuller, as well as a former walk-on in Saunders who worked his way into a scholarship and is now a team captain.
“They are a great representation of the program,” Day said of the elected captains. “They are a group of guys I think epitomize what we want an Ohio State football player to be. I think they understand what it means to be a captain and are very, very well respected.”
Day said of Saunders being voted a captain, “I think it’s unbelievable. You can tell that these guys respect hard work, they respect and really give a lot of credit to the way he’s gone about his work every day, the way he handles himself, his character. C.J. hasn’t played a whole bunch around here. What matters is how he works in the weight room, how he practices, the way he handles himself off the field, the classroom.”
Each of the captains, minus Cooper, met with the media following their announcement.
Saunders said he wasn’t surprised by being named a captain by his teammates but is “honored and humbled” to have the title.
“I think the way my career has progressed and how I’ve gotten to build relationships with my teammates, it’s something that I have strived for,” Saunders said.
He said being led last season by three captains — Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin — in his own position room helped him to understand what it means to be captain, and the idea of himself potentially becoming a captain became realistic to him.
Asked if being a former walk-on made the honor even sweeter, Saunders said it was “pretty cool” but added his journey to becoming a team captain is more a testament to the Ohio State program in that “it doesn’t always matter about how many stars you had or where you’re coming out of high school. It’s all about the respect you earn once you get here.”
K.J. Hill said it was a goal when he decided to return to Ohio State for his senior season to be voted a captain. Like Saunders, Hill said he learned from his fellow receivers last year. In particular, he said he learned when to speak up and be a vocal leader.
“I’m working on being more vocal,” he said. “I really didn’t have to be vocal because of the guys previously. I am that guy now with them being gone.”
Fuller said of the mix of personalities among the captains, “We have a good mix of ‘rah-rah’ guys as captains and also guys you can come to on a personal basis.” He said Young has taken the lead when it comes to being the most vocal but feels all the captains will speak up when needed.
Young said of being a captain, “It’s definitely something I worked for. I just have to keep going, keep leading.”
He said the goal of becoming a captain really began to take shape at the end of last year, his sophomore season, after being in the program for two years and fully grasping what it means to be a Buckeye.
He added being a captain means doing everything right, on and off the field, to lead by example for his teammates.
Young pointed to Saunders as a great example of a guy who represents the “lead by example” quality. “He really doesn’t have to say too much because he does it, you see the type of guy he is,” he said of Saunders.
Look for further coverage of Ohio State’s 2019 season in upcoming editions of The Gazette.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.