Ohio State opens training camp with early praise for quarterbacks
Ohio State’s training camp began Wednesday, and most of the focus was on the quarterbacks competing to succeed Justin Fields.
Redshirt freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller and true freshman Kyle McCord resumed their battle while ballyhooed Quinn Ewers is planning to arrive soon.
Ewers, the top-ranked player nationally in the 2022 class, became the top-ranked player in the 2021 class when he announced Monday that he would skip his final year of high school to enroll at Ohio State. He is doing so — in part — to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities. But first, Ewers must finish his final class at Southlake Carroll High School in suburban Dallas.
Because of Ewers’ status, speculation has already begun about when he might be able to compete for the job. Coach Ryan Day preferred to focus on the quarterbacks who have been on campus, and Day said he was pleased with what he saw Wednesday from all three of them.
“I thought as a whole we threw and caught the ball well for Day 1,” he said. “We'll see what that means. But they certainly did a lot of work this summer because the first throws on air, the ball didn't touch the ground. But this is step one. We've got a long way to go.”
Stroud, Miller and McCord spoke to reporters Tuesday for the first time in 2021. They said they welcome the arrival of Ewers.
“We'll accept him in the room with open arms, just like we did with Kyle,” Stroud said. “It's all a brotherhood. I don't believe in having a beef with my teammates. Me and Quinn are really cool anyway. I'm definitely excited to get him in here.”
Stroud, who filled in when Justin Fields was hurt for one play against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals, is perceived to be the front-runner. He doesn’t view it that way. He was a late-bloomer as a high school player in California and maintains the mentality of someone who has been overlooked.
“I feel like I'm last,” he said. “I feel like I'm in the back. I've had a mindset since I was little to have a chip on my shoulder. It's kind of where I come from. I'm always an underdog, and I like that feeling. Even if I am the front-runner, it really doesn't matter to me. I just want to be able to go out there and play the game that I love.”
Stroud said he has added about 20 pounds of muscle to his frame since arriving at Ohio State. Miller and McCord also said they’ve transformed their bodies under the direction of strength coach Mickey Marotti.
“I’ve gotten so much better since I’ve been here,” said Miller, who’s from Arizona. “It’s hard not to get better when you have such good receivers and such a good offensive line, and the coaching staff just so next-level, it’s crazy.”
McCord, a five-star recruit from Philadelphia St. Joseph’s Prep, enrolled in January.
“Coming in the winter just allowed me to get a head start on everything, whether it was the playbook or lifting and just adjusting your college life in general,” he said. “I think that was huge. I’d be a lot farther behind in my development if I hadn't come in January.”
Day has said that the best way for a quarterback to get ahead in the position battle is to worry only about himself, not the competition. All three seem to have taken that to heart.
“I'm just trying to get better every single day and focus on myself and whatever happens, happens,” McCord said.
Added Stroud, “We compete as brothers, and we understand that we all want the same goal. We're all brothers. We all love each other.”
Day said he expects to need all of the quarterbacks at some point. He referenced the 2014 national championship team, which lost Braxton Miller in the preseason and then J.T. Barrett against Michigan before Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes to the title.
“It's a long journey all the way to January next year,” Day said. “That's really the focus right now -- for these guys is to realize that, in order for us to go win championships and get to where we need to get to, that room has to be strong, and they’ve got to pull for each other.”
Day said, perhaps with hyperbole, at Big Ten media days that the quarterback situation was causing some sleepless nights. He seemed more reassured now.
“I feel very good,” he said. “I think about the talent that we have in that room and the work these guys have put in and where we're at right now, I do feel good. I'll feel a lot better after we get done with the first game.
“There’s a lot of work to be done until then, but I'm very, very excited about the talent level in that entire room and the work ethic that's been shown. Who wouldn't be excited to have such talented young men in a room competing together who care about Ohio State?
“There's a lot of media out there talking about different things, but ignoring the noise and just going out and going to work and focusing on the development, that's not easy to do for an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old kid. So I’m very proud of their approach so far.”
Quarterback isn’t the only position with questions. At linebacker, the Buckeyes must replace their top four players from a year ago.
“That's a position obviously that's going to get a lot of attention here and get a lot of focus from the staff certainly through August,” Day said. “Hopefully, in about two weeks we'll get a better idea who's going to be starting that first game.”
The secondary also is in the spotlight after a shaky 2020 performance. With an infusion of young talent and veterans Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown back from injuries, Day is expecting improvement. He liked what he saw Wednesday.
“Just as a whole they looked sharper today,” he said.
Dispatch reporters Joey Kaufman and Rob Oller contributed to this story.