Justin Fields has been regarded as practically a lock to be the next starting quarterback for Ohio State since he enrolled as a transfer from Georgia in January.
But it was only in the last week, coach Ryan Day said, that Fields truly earned the job. As expected, Day made it official Monday by naming the sophomore the starting quarterback for the Aug. 31 season opener against Florida Atlantic.
“Coming out of the spring, Justin had a good feel for the offense, but certainly was nowhere near ready to be the starter for this offense,” Day said. “After the first week (of camp), he really wasn't there. Made some mistakes, turned the ball over.
“Right now, he's starting to scratch the surface. I still don't think he's where he needs to be. (But) after this week, I think he played at a starter level and earned the job. We'll see where it goes from there.”
Day made no promises beyond having Fields take the first snap of the opener. But he also said that he understands that Fields will make mistakes and that those are essential for his growth. After all, Fields doesn’t have the two years learning the system that Dwayne Haskins Jr. had a year ago before he became a star.
But Fields also was the second-ranked prospect nationally in the 2018 recruiting class. The combination of immense potential, inexperience and the pressure of being the Ohio State quarterback is something that Fields and Day must navigate.
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“The expectations are almost ridiculous,” Day said. “But it's the same thing as being the head coach at Ohio State. That's what you signed up for. We're here for a reason.
“If you get caught up in those type of things, you get yourself jammed up. I think he understands that. He always envisioned himself at a school where he's going to be in a high-profile position.”
Fields took the news in stride. He has taken most of the reps with the first team in camp ahead of Gunnar Hoak and Chris Chugunov, so this was no shock to him or anyone else. But getting the official nod was special.
“It's a great honor being named the starting quarterback at such a prestigious university,” Fields said, “so I'm definitely excited.”
Fields agreed that he has much to prove.
“Of course, I have to improve on everything, really,” he said. “I’m not where I need to be, and I definitely think I've got a long way to go. So I'm just going to try to improve all aspects of my game.”
Fields may not yet be the polished passer that Haskins was, but he is a capable one. His running ability will give the offense a dimension it mostly lacked from the quarterback position last year.
“He is different,” receiver K.J. Hill said, “because I feel like I put him in that Cam Newton category where he's got some wheels on him. He can fly, so that can open it up for us as receivers and the whole offense. He's 4.4 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) — somewhere in there — and plus, you got to worry about his arm. So that's going to open up the offense.”
A quarterback also must be a leader, and Fields seems to be well on his way in that regard.
“I think he does have leadership skills,” Day said. “I think when you walk in, it's hard to just kind of bang the door down, especially in a program like this where there's unbelievable guys who put in years’ worth of work.
“I think day-in and day-out with what he's doing, he's earning the respect of the guys around him. I'll be shocked if he's not a strong leader for us by the end of the season.”
Fields left his home state for a chance that he has now gotten. He understands the standard that has been set by recent Ohio State quarterbacks. Though he had to be pressed to say it, he believes he can live up to it.
“Is there any doubt in my mind? I definitely have the potential to be a great player,” he said, “and God has blessed me with a lot of ability.”