Don’t bore Ohio State offensive tackle Branden Bowen with quarterback analytics. Don’t bother him with arm strength accolades or details of how well the quarterback finds receivers.
All Bowen wants to know is whether his QB lives to compete. If so, everything else falls into place.
“It doesn’t matter to me about the throwing, the running, because if you have a competitor, it doesn’t matter the skill set, he’s going to find a way to get it done,” Bowen said.
Does Justin Fields fit that bill?
“He’s absolutely a competitor. He’s the real deal,” Bowen said.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said after Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage that none of the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks has won the starting job. Day did not see the kind of separation he wanted, so the competition continues.
Fields is first among equals. It would take an injury or serious downturn in camp production for the sophomore to lose the starting job to Gunnar Hoak or Chris Chugunov. Still, it is worth examining what exactly an Ohio State quarterback needs to prove to start the opener against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31.
Most fans focus on tangibles. Braxton Miller could run. Dwayne Haskins Jr. could throw. J.T. Barrett did a bit of both. But physical attributes, while important, are not the first thing coaches and offensive linemen look for in their signal caller.
I learned this the hard way. While discussing QB play with Ohio State quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich, I asked what separates the good ones from the great ones. Unfortunately, I answered my own question before Yurcich could spit out two words.
Yurcich was more understanding than my family when facing my know-it-all moments. He held back the stink eye.
After sharing my expertise — ability to make snap decisions under pressure distinguishes exceptional quarterbacks from ho-hums — Yurcich firmly but politely cut down my theory. Note to self: shut up.
“The most important thing about quarterbacks is competitiveness. They have to be that guy who doesn’t lose in Ping-Pong, that guy who gets mad if he doesn’t throw a strike in bowling,” Yurcich said.
Duly noted. What Yurcich’s explanation tells us is that if Fields fails to win the starting job, the reason can be traced to competitiveness, lacking an attitude of “I’m willing to rip out your heart out to win.”
It is more nuanced than that, of course. A quarterback with a 2-cent arm isn’t going to run the offense. Also, Yurcich ranks field vision closely behind competitiveness.
“You need to see the field. Some guys, the bullets start flying and they can’t see,” Yurcich said. “That’s hard, because as a coach you can’t see through their eyeballs. You don’t exactly see what they see. Some guys get locked on (one receiver), some guys just see guys who are open.”
So there’s that. But combine Yurcich’s most essential QB quality with Day’s and Bowen’s and a pattern forms.
“Leadership is No. 1,” Day said. “At the end of the day, do you move your team down the field and do you show leadership?”
In that context, competitiveness and leadership are of the same cloth. Coaches and players want their quarterback to run the offense with the idea that failure is not an option. Some of that involves confidence, a first cousin to competitiveness. But the bulk of it centers on being obsessed with winning. Or consumed by a refusal to lose.
Put yourself in the huddle. It is a relief that the quarterback has a strong arm and shifty moves. But it is his belief in winning that makes him someone to follow.