With Ohio State football preseason camp approaching, the status of Justin Fields remains hurry up and wait.
While fans are in a rush to see him become a star, the coaching staff wants to make sure he is ready before that is thrust upon him.
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That could be why head coach Ryan Day has not yet declared him Ohio State’s starting quarterback even though the five-star prospect was thought to have the inside track from the time he announced he was transferring from Georgia.
Or maybe it’s more simple than that.
“One of our core philosophies is that you don't just get given a starting position,” Day said last week at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “You earn everything you get around here, and he hasn't done that.”
He was careful to contrast Fields’ situation with that of predecessor Dwayne Haskins, who spent two years at Ohio State before replacing J.T. Barrett last year but needed only 14 games to rewrite the record books and become a first-round NFL Draft pick.
“Justin hasn't won the job yet,” Day said. "That's the first step in all this. I know everybody wants to get way ahead of themselves and start talking about the Heisman, but how about winning the starting quarterback job first because you can't win the job when you're still learning the offense.”
Fields began learning the offense upon arriving in January and had 15 practices in spring to put his knowledge to use.
That puts him ahead of Gunnar Hoak, a Kentucky transfer who announced in April he will be a Buckeye, but it still is not a lot of time to learn an offense Haskins and others have said requires more than a year to truly master.
Adding another wrinkle to the tapestry is the fact quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich is new and learning the offense along with them.
“We did a good job in the spring of picking that up, and August is going to be big for us,” Day said. “We've got to move, we've got to take big steps forward. The first time we play in that first game the quarterback is going to throw his first pass and his first touchdown pass for the first time. I know it was the same with Dwayne last year, but he had been in the program and was in his third year. I think that was a unique situation.”
Whether the starting quarterback is Fields or someone else, he will have a group of receivers to throw to that includes senior K.J. Hill.
Already one of the most productive pass catchers in Ohio State history, the fifty-year senior said he hopes to see a starter named by the third week of the preseason.
“To know the starter is a big thing because you know who's going to be the leader of the offense,” Hill said. “That's the general of the offense. Going into training camp it's a competition. About that second week, it's time to start getting ready, toning things up because we're going to start getting ready to play our first game. So after those first two weeks, you need to know who your general is on the offensive side. That's somebody who's got to speak up. That's the one we have to follow at the end of the day.”
If Fields does win the job as expected, he will bring an added dimension to the offense that was missing last year until Haskins became a more willing runner late in the season.
"He can be really good,” Hill said. “He can bring a lot to an offense because he can run the football a little bit. He has legs, Dwayne didn’t have that. We can do a passing game, we can do a lot more in the running game with the (run-pass options) and it can make it easier on us.
“At the end of the day, people will start playing us differently. Man-to-man (coverage), Dwayne was going to torch them. Then they started zoning us and that’s when you started to see in games the score coming down because they started zoning us. I feel like with a quarterback like Justin, it’s going to make you have to be honest with your defense.”
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