Fields, OSU teammates continue to progress

Bill Rabinowitz

Ohio State has completed nine of 15 spring football practices, with the spring game less than two weeks away.

But if you’re looking for definitive answers about the 2019 Buckeyes, new coach Ryan Day wasn’t prepared Monday to provide a lot of them.

He wouldn’t name a front-runner in the quarterback competition between Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin. The offensive line remains a puzzle, with some of the pieces not available. The defense continues to adapt to a new look.

This is normal for a team that lost so many key players and overhauled its coaching staff on defense. Day did not sound particularly concerned.

Fields lost his black helmet stripe last week, symbolic of him becoming a full-fledged Buckeye.

“He made plays and came out with a good attitude in terms of understanding what it takes to be a quarterback early on,” Day said during his first session with reporters since March 23. “He’s only been in the offense here for eight or nine practices and has picked it up pretty quickly.

“The fact he’s able to run the offense right now with not a lot of reps under his belt is pretty significant, and he’s made a few plays with his arm and his feet.”

Fields is considered the favorite to win the job, though coaches have been careful not to confirm that. Day said that he planned later Monday to start analyzing completion percentage in practice and how the offense has moved under each quarterback to start the process of assessing a front-runner.

“We’re starting to get to the point where I think there are enough snaps of film we can start to get an idea of where things are at,” Day said. “But as I sit here right now, no (quarterback is ahead).”

It’s tricky because the offensive line doesn’t look the same as it likely will in the fall. Thayer Munford (back injury) isn’t practicing the spring, and he’s the only returning starter from last year.

“First of all, I don’t know how you replace those guys,” offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said of the departed linemen. “But I’m excited about how the young guys are working right now. Their development is coming along really well.”

But depth is lacking. Jonah Jackson, a graduate transfer from Rutgers, won’t arrive until after spring practice. Nor will five-star freshman center Harry Miller. Tackle Josh Alabi and interior lineman Matthew Jones have missed the last few practices with flu-like symptoms.

Jackson can play center, but the Buckeyes have confidence in Josh Myers there. After Wyatt Davis’ impressive emergence at right guard late last year, Jackson is likely to land at left guard. It was telling that Day used the word “where” rather than “if” regarding Jackson’s status as a potential starter. He was honorable mention all-Big Ten last year.

At right tackle, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Branden Bowen are battling, though Bowen has the flexibility to play either tackle spot or at guard. He started at right guard in 2017 before breaking his left tibia and fibula.

Petit-Frere, a five-star recruit in 2018, is on an 8,000-calorie per day diet to bulk up. Bowen said he feels physically and mentally ready after having a couple of setbacks last year.

Day said the offense has shown explosiveness, though consistency remains an issue. He’s also waiting for more leaders to emerge.

On defense, Day said the mostly new staff has shown good chemistry and the tweaks to the scheme have gone well. The Buckeyes have implemented more zone coverage and are asking linemen to shoot gaps more rather than occupy blockers.

“I think the installation of the defense has been solid,” Day said. “I think we’re about where we thought we’d be there.”


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