Quarterbacks will be under scrutiny in spring game

Bill Rabinowitz
Coach Ryan Day has been careful not to indicate who might be leading in the competition between quarterbacks Justin Fields (1) and Matthew Baldwin (12). [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Ohio State’s spring game is Saturday, and competition at plenty of positions remains on the line.

Don’t expect them to be resolved this weekend.

Urban Meyer liked to have as much settled as possible coming out of the spring. His successor as coach isn’t in a hurry.

“We always want to have competition,” Ryan Day said Wednesday. “We're not in a rush to name starters. I don’t think that’s appropriate until you get to preseason. Competition is really good because that drives guys to get better."

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Most of the attention, of course, is on the quarterbacks. Transfer Justin Fields and redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin are competing to succeed Dwayne Haskins Jr.

Conventional wisdom has Fields as the leader. He has taken the vast majority of first-team reps in the select practices open to reporters. But Day has been careful not to tip his hand. He praised both players Wednesday. He said Fields has learned the offense quickly since his arrival in January. Day said Baldwin’s last handful of practices have been his best of the spring.

“Really, they’re both freshmen,” he said. “It catches me sometimes. They were in high school last (spring). Both of the guys have done a good job grasping information.”

>> Read more: A history of Ohio State's spring football game

Day indicated that Saturday’s performance won’t be decisive in settling their competition. But it is their first test in a quasi-game setting in front of fans.

“Coaches are off the field so now it’s their team,” Day said. “What does their leadership look like? How do they manage the game?”

He wants to see how they adjust to down and distance as well as their leadership, energy and even body language.

The game will be played in 10-minute quarters with a running clock in the second half. Starters will play against starters and backups against backups, Day said, though some players may be shifted back and forth to get more action.

For established starters, their appearances Saturday are likely to be cameos. Day mentioned defensive end Chase Young as a get-in-and-get-out guy. Several players, including linebacker Tuf Borland, left tackle Thayer Munford, safety Jordan Fuller, running back Demario McCall and defensive back Marcus Williamson, won’t play because of injury.

To minimize the risk of injury to others, Day said, tacklers will “thud” ball-carriers instead of bringing them to the ground.

“I thought about it a bunch,” Day said, “and tackling in the spring is a dangerous thing. We spend so much time and effort recruiting those guys and getting them ready to go and I just don’t think it’s worth it to try to put the pads in the ground right now.”

Even with those limitations, Day is interested to see how defensive players have adjusted to the scheme installed by co-coordinators Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley.

On offense, Day is curious to see how the new-look line performs in a game situation. The Buckeyes are thin at running back behind J.K. Dobbins, who likely won’t play for long. Day said Master Teague has been slowed by injury. With McCall out, look for early enrollee freshman Marcus Crowley to get plenty of work.

More than 63,000 tickets had been sold for the spring game as of Wednesday morning, football spokesman Jerry Emig said. Capacity will be limited to 76,000 because of Ohio Stadium renovations.


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