Fields hones in on starter's role

Bill Rabinowitz
An apparent good series of practices this week has Justin Fields on the verge of locking up the starting spot for Ohio State's season opener. [Maddie Schroeder/Dispatch]

Since the day he enrolled at Ohio State in January, Justin Fields has been regarded as the prohibitive favorite to be the Buckeyes’ next starting quarterback.

On Monday, that designation likely will become official.

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Throughout the spring and into training camp, coach Ryan Day refused to tip his hand about whether Fields would be the starter. He wanted the quarterback position to be regarded as a competition, and it’s hard for something to be a competition if a winner is declared early.

But with the start of Ohio State’s season slightly more than two weeks away, Day came closer than ever on Wednesday to stating what most observers considered a foregone conclusion. Day praised the play of all the quarterbacks, but Fields was the one he mentioned by name.

“I think Justin is practicing at a high level now and had a nice couple really good days here,” he said.

Day said he likely will announce the starter on Monday.

“We've got to name captains here in the next couple days as well, and we'll get back here on Monday and probably have an update for you,” he said.

Fields was the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class. He signed with his home-state Georgia Bulldogs but wasn’t able to unseat incumbent Jake Fromm in 2018 and then transferred to Ohio State.

Fields competed with Matthew Baldwin during spring practice before Baldwin transferred to TCU. Dublin native Gunner Hoak left Kentucky as a graduate transfer to become a Buckeye after spring practice.

Chris Chugunov, who enrolled last summer as a graduate transfer from West Virginia, is the only scholarship quarterback remaining from last year’s Ohio State roster.

Day said that all three quarterbacks have taken reps with the first-team offense in camp, but Fields has taken the most.

“For the most part, when the 1's are out there, Justin has been out there with the 1's,” Day said.

Day was displeased with the quarterbacks’ play on Saturday during their first intrasquad scrimmage of camp. The Buckeyes committed several turnovers, including two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

Apparently, the quarterbacks have been better in the practices since then.

“I feel good,” Day said. “I feel better than I did last week at this time. I think the guys are getting more and more reps under their belt.

“I do think Justin has taken a stride in the last couple days and the last week. He's moving the team nicely, taking care of the ball better the last couple days, throwing the ball on time. The improvement's there, and the leadership is improving.”

Fields is a dual-threat quarterback, and Day wants to take advantage of his running as well as his passing. Last year’s quarterback, Dwayne Haskins Jr., threw for a school-record 50 touchdowns but wasn’t much of a running threat.

“I think in this offense you don't want to be paint-by-numbers with an athletic quarterback,” Day said. “You want him to have the ability to kind of make plays with his feet and ad lib a little bit, but also stay within the offense.

“I think Justin gives us that opportunity. But at the same time, he's smart. He's going to know when he's going to have to put his pads down and run and when he has to get down, slide, get out of bounds — and that's part of playing quarterback.”


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