The quarterback churn will at last slow for Ryan Day in 2020.
With Justin Fields back at Ohio State for his junior season, Day will work with the same starting QB in consecutive seasons for the first time in his college coaching career.
It marks an anticipated development. Day wore a slight smile and nodded with confidence when he noted the outlook during a news conference last week.
Continuity helps, especially at the critical position, but it's particularly the presence of Fields that leaves Day encouraged.
In his first season behind center for the Buckeyes, Fields finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy and pieced together one of the best statistical seasons in school history during their return to the College Football Playoff.
He passed for 3,272 yards, third-most in a season for Ohio State quarterbacks, along with 41 touchdowns, second-most. And no one was more efficient — his 181.42 passer rating set a school single-season record.
Even amid such prolific production, however, there still is room to grow. Late in the season, Day said he was most excited that Fields had a “huge ceiling.”
He elaborated on areas for Fields' offseason development.
“Leadership is going to be a big one, just as an intangible,” Day said. “But there's also things with his game that we really want to look at and work on so that he can be more efficient throwing the ball.”
Among teammates, Fields has been known as reserved, so much so that star pass rusher Chase Young encouraged him to become more outspoken during spring practice last year. It was Fields' first season with the program after transferring from Georgia.
“He's made a lot of great strides,” Day said, “but there's certain things in his game that we can really take to the next level.”
Improvement would be significant, as the Buckeyes will be without Fields' backfield partner from last season. Running back J.K. Dobbins, who finished sixth in the Heisman voting, declared for the NFL draft after starting for three seasons.
Improved health might also offer a significant benefit for Fields. Late in the season, he dealt with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, a setback that especially limited him in the second half of a win at Michigan on Nov. 30.
Fields wore a bulky knee brace as a preventive measure during the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin and the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson, when the Buckeyes were eliminated from the playoff.
“It wasn't something that was catastrophic,” Day said, “but at the same time, he wasn't 100 percent.”
The Buckeyes rarely used Fields on designed runs in the final two games, and the dual-threat quarterback totaled a season-low 1 rushing yard in the conference title game.
Day said there were other times during the season when Fields missed practices because of injury issues, seemingly less significant but also limiting game preparation.
As a result, Day noted, “the whole arsenal of stuff was not there.”
“It's very hard for a college quarterback to play at a high level without practicing,” Day added. “I think if you're Aaron Rodgers and you've been doing it for X number of years, it's OK. But when you're (younger), the timing and everything, it's very hard.”
Winter strength and conditioning workouts began last week, but Day said the staff will be smart with how it handles Fields as he recovers from the knee injury. But Day said he expects Fields to ultimately be 100 percent.
“We don't see any issues moving forward,” he said.
Day and Fields are forever linked as the Buckeyes pursue their second national championship of the playoff era. It was last January when Day, OSU's offensive coordinator before succeeding Urban Meyer, brought in Fields as a transfer.
The move put the Buckeyes back on a path toward the playoff, and Day was pleased by the early returns.
“I'm really proud of the way he came along this year,” Day said. “I thought from Game 1 all the way to the last game he really improved. It's exciting that we're going to have him back.”