By any measure, Justin Fields’ first season in Columbus was a resounding success.
As a first-year starter, Fields torched opposing defenses in 2019 with both his arm and legs, justifying the hype that made him one of the most highly sought-after high school quarterbacks in recent memory.
Fields’ prolific season earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and a seat at the Heisman Trophy ceremony as a finalist for the award last December, while also helping to lead Ohio State to an undefeated regular season, Big Ten championship, and a trip to the College Football Playoff.
Still, with little left to prove at the college level, and a likely first-round NFL Draft selection awaiting him next spring, Fields is hardly resting on his laurels. In fact, there is ample reason to believe the best might be yet to come for the sophomore quarterback.
“I want to be the best quarterback in college football, I want to be the best quarterback I can be,” Fields said on Tuesday of what has fueled him this offseason.
Without having to worry about learning the offense this offseason, Fields said he was able to focus on improving “across the board,” which he feels he has done ahead of the 2020 season. Assisting him in that development has been a newly-promoted quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis, who was named to the position in January.
Prior to the promotion, Dennis served as a senior quality control coach for the Buckeyes. Now the leader of the quarterback room, Dennis couldn’t be more impressed with the drive Fields has shown.
“The guy is polished,” Dennis said. “And the thing about Justin is he wants to be great, he wants to be the best. He’s not going to leave any stone unturned. He wants to know why we’re doing this, what’s the read, and he’s truly going to be prepared … he’s all in, he’s ready to go, and his preparation level is through the roof right now.”
Dennis said he enjoys the challenge of coaching a player both as talented and as smart as Fields because it forces him to be at his best every day.
“You better know what you’re talking about, and you better be ready to go because it’s not just a matter of going in here and running this meeting,” Dennis said of coaching Fields. “You have to prepare like you’re coaching a Tom Brady.”
Of course, both Fields and Dennis have the luxury of learning under one of the most widely-respect quarterback coaches in college football in Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. A former college quarterback himself, Day spent two years coaching the Buckeye quarterbacks, including Dwayne Haskins’ monster 2018 campaign, prior to taking over as the head coach last season.
“I think Coach Day is the best quarterbacks coach in the country, ” Fields said. “I might be biased, but that’s truly how I feel. I just think he’s one smart guy, and I’ve learned so much from him. And I plan on learning a lot more … Coach Day is second to none. He’s a great guy and a great quarterbacks coach.”
Day said the unique offseason has allowed him to get to know Fields better as a person, which has brought the relationship between the two to an all-time high.
“He’s a special young man that I’ve grown really close to and think the world of him,” Day said. “I’m just so happy he’s going to have an opportunity to play this season.”
On the field, Day said Fields has taken the leap from simply trying to understand what he is doing to why he’s doing things.
“We’re getting to the point now where when he hears a call, he knows what I’m thinking, he knows what (offensive coordinator) Kevin Wilson is thinking,” Day said. “That’s really, really important. That’s when you can take it to the next level.”
Dennis said of having a quarterback thinking at that level, “Having a guy like that is invaluable.”
If Fields is, indeed, able to take Ohio State to another level this season, opposing defenses might be helpless in attempting to slow down what is becoming a juggernaut of a unit under Day. But all of that rides on Fields’ ability to stay healthy and have a full arsenal at his disposal, something that wasn’t always the case last season.
Fields was limited late last season after injuring his knee in the waning seconds of the Buckeyes’ victory over Penn State on Nov. 23. While the injury didn’t force him to miss a start, Fields did have to wear a bulky brace on the knee over the final three games, noticeably limiting the mobility that made him a true dual-threat over Ohio State’s most important stretch of the schedule.
All appears to be well with the knee now, however, as Fields said on Tuesday that he feels “great” and “ready to go.”
“I feel like I’ve prepared in the offseason, I’ve done my offseason training to where I’ve put myself in a great position to succeed on the field,” Fields said. “I feel great in terms of my knee and running.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.