The media’s 24/7 reach and rehash makes months feel like minutes, so no wonder Ohio State’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson feels like it happened last week instead of Dec. 28.
Wasn’t everyone just ripping on the officiating in the College Football Playoff semifinal? Didn’t J.K. Dobbins just suffer a sprained ankle, twisting the Buckeyes’ offense into becoming one-dimensional against the Tigers?
Blink twice and poof, a new season is here. For Ohio State coach Ryan Day, however, Monday’s first day of spring practice felt like years in the making. Day could not recall the last time he worked with the same starting quarterback two years in a row, as will be the case this season with Justin Fields.
"We were just talking about that," Day said. "It’s been at least a decade. I can’t remember the last time it happened."
Because it never has. Fields becomes the first starting quarterback Day has coached in consecutive seasons since taking on the primary responsibility of coaching quarterbacks in 2013. That season, he served as offensive coordinator/QB coach at Boston College, working with Chase Rettig.
In 2014, Tyler Murphy took over for Rettig, and in 2015, Day left BC for the Philadelphia Eagles, where as quarterbacks coach under Chip Kelly he worked with Sam Bradford. When the Eagles fired Kelly in December 2015, Day was out, too. Kelly landed in San Francisco, bringing Day with him to the 49ers. Rinse. Repeat. Kelly got fired in 2016, and Day was part of the purge after just one season coaching quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert.
Day landed at Ohio State in 2017, coaching quarterback J.T. Barrett. In 2018, Day helped Dwayne Haskins Jr. compile the best statistical passing season in Big Ten history. After one season, Haskins left early for the NFL, denying Day a chance for a second straight season working with the same QB.
Fields won the starting job last season and returns in 2020, perhaps only because he can’t turn pro until after the upcoming season. If he could, it’s possible Day again would have been denied an opportunity to coach a returning starter.
"It’s unique, so it’s exciting," Day said of working with Fields again.
As Day patrolled the indoor practice field Monday, Fields went through his reps with impressive precision. Gone was the bulky knee brace that hindered his agility over the last 3½ games last season. Considering his shiny accomplishments as a first-year starter in 2019 — 41 passing touchdowns with only three interceptions, 3,273 yards passing, 10 rushing TDs, Heisman Trophy finalist — it is fair to ask how much better Fields can get.
"We have a list of things he’s working on to get better," Day said, making sure to mention how impressed he is with Fields’ development since spring practice a year ago. "It’s Year Two, so we spend a lot of time talking about the intricacies of the position, the protections, route progressions and coverages."
Quarterback coaches in college and the NFL say a huge jump typically occurs in a quarterback’s comfort level and execution from Year One to Year Two. If so, the Buckeyes should be looking at another playoff season, considering Fields was stellar in Year One.
"That’s the idea, for (the improvement) to be big," Day said. "Hopefully, Justin can take those extra reps and those extra meetings and step his game way up."
Fields should feel more comfortable running Day’s offense in the fall. It is worth watching how he develops under first-year quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis. Improvement will be expected. But even status quo would be pretty darn good.