'Chill' QBs on equal footing early in practice
The passes zipped out of the quarterbacks’ hands crisply and, unlike many on Wednesday, on target.
Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin didn’t make observers forget about Dwayne Haskins Jr.’s brilliance last year. Friday was only the second day of spring practice and players were not in pads. Any judgment would be premature.
But with former coach Urban Meyer observing from the sideline, Fields and Baldwin threw well enough to engender belief that the position will be in good hands in 2019.
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“These are our first practices in a couple months,” Fields said, “so, of course, we’re going to have a little bit of rust. But I think we both were throwing the ball better today.”
Baldwin, a redshirt freshman who rehabbed from knee surgery last year, acknowledged that he was nervous Wednesday.
“All the newness and all the jitters are kind of worn off, and you’re getting into a groove with your guys,” he said. “We’re all on the same team. You’re all pushing for the same thing.”
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Fields, the former five-star recruit who transferred from Georgia, is considered the front-runner. As he did Wednesday, the sophomore took the first reps in drills. But coaches have been careful not to give anyone an edge at this point.
“We’re going to mix the reps up,” quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “All the quarterbacks will rotate through. It’s too early to get into any of that. Those guys will get their fair share of reps and we’ll create some competition. Any time you’re able to create competition, it raises the level of play. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron.”
Fields enrolled in January and has been immersed in learning the playbook and culture. Fields said the transition from Georgia has been a smooth one, with one exception.
“The weather has surprised me a lot,” the Georgia native said with a smile. “I’m definitely not excited about that. Other than that, everything has been going well.”
As for the presumption that he will be the starter, Fields said that his sole focus is on improving, not his status.
“Coach (Ryan) Day wasn’t giving any handouts,” he said. “I knew coming here I’d have to work for it. Me and Matt are good friends. He’s definitely a good quarterback. I’m just learning from him every day because he was here.”
Fields said the biggest area of emphasis in his fundamentals has been on sharpening his footwork in the pocket. He transferred in without knowing for sure whether the NCAA would approve his request for a waiver to play right away instead of having to sit out a year. He said he was in bed watching Netflix when he found out it was approved.
“Of course, I was excited,” he said.
But there was no crazy celebration.
“I’m kind of an even-keeled guy so when big or exciting things happen I’m kind of chill about it,” he said.
Baldwin appears to have a similar personality. He said he welcomes the competition with Fields.
“They’re going to play the best player,” he said. “I know he’s got a lot of hype around him but he’s lived up to it. Everything I’ve seen about him — throwing with him before spring started and even (now) in spring — he’s living up to it. He’s a great player, and it’s awesome being able to compete against a guy like that and kind of (see how I) measure up.”
Though Friday’s practice was an improvement over Wednesday’s, both quarterbacks know much more is needed.
“I’m kind of hard on myself and a perfectionist,” Fields said. “I’m not where I want to be.”
He is in the beginning stage of developing chemistry with the receivers and learning the system, which he said is similar to Georgia’s.
Time is on the quarterbacks’ side. The Buckeyes are off for the next week for spring break before resuming for the final 13 practices of the spring.