Three starts into his Ohio State career, Justin Fields hasn’t had major growing pains.
It’s a sign of Fields’ rapid development as a quarterback that the question now isn’t when those pains will arrive, but if they will at all.
Sure, the sophomore will have bumps in the road against tougher competition, though a game Saturday against Miami University shouldn’t be overly challenging. He misfired on a few throws last week against Indiana.
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But all in all, Fields’ talent, intelligence and maturity are overriding his inexperience.
“I think where he is right now is light-years ahead of where I thought he'd be,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Thursday.
Fields’ ability was never in question. He was the second-ranked overall prospect behind Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the 2018 recruiting class. After a year of limited play behind Jake Fromm at Georgia, Fields transferred to Ohio State. He enrolled in January.
But Day’s offense is complex. Fields was expected to be inconsistent early in the season. Instead, Fields has completed 70 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
He has shown both elite-level arm strength and good touch, though his footwork against Indiana was inconsistent.
Fields’ speed makes him a dangerous runner. His first carry of the season was a 51-yard touchdown. But he has only 25 carries total because the Buckeyes don’t want to expose him to unneeded injury risk.
Field’s intelligence and maturity have been as impressive as his physical skills. Day said Fields is adept at transferring a concept from the meeting room to the field.
“There's a lot of guys who are talented out there,” Day said, “but when you need to take 20 reps to run a play, that's not good. We throw a lot of offense at him. We're doing a lot of things on offense right now, whether it's the spread stuff or the (two-tight-end) stuff or under center or shotgun.
“I would say right now we're probably doing more stuff now overall than we've ever done just in terms of variety, and so for him to be able to handle all that is strong.”
That’s a product of Fields’ determination to accelerate the learning curve as much as he could.
“I knew I came in here with a mind-set where I have to do all I can to be the best player I can be,” he said. “So seeing myself where I am right now, it's not surprising. I'm just glad to be in the place I am for now.”
As he has become more comfortable with his new teammates and had success on the field, Fields’ leadership has grown. He knew he couldn’t arrive in January and act like the leader. It had to develop naturally, and it has. When running back J.K. Dobbins dropped an easy touchdown pass last week, Fields was quick to run over with an encouraging word.
Quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich said leaders need what he called “street cred” with teammates, and that can come only with time.
“I think that confidence has always been there,” Yurcich said. “But now it's more outward. It's not just an inner confidence. I think people can see that. He’s got, I don't know if you call it a swag or just a presence about him that I think his teammates take to.”
In interviews, Fields has been even-keeled and careful with his words. He said he gets that from his father, who always preached humility.
With teammates, Fields has let his guard down. A video of him “Hitting the Woah” in the team meeting room went viral.
“Not every quarterback in the world can hit the woah quite like me,” he said with a smile of the dance move.
As smooth as Fields’ start has been, the true challenges on and off the field are still ahead.
“There's a lot of things that he needs to handle, and so far he's handled them,” Day said. “But he's going to quickly learn that at Ohio State, the more you win, the more the stakes get higher and higher, and the more is expected. That all comes with it. But he's got a good head on his shoulders.”