COLUMBUS — To learn to speak and write in French, for example, that’s an admirable goal for someone brought up with another language. But to progress to thinking in French — ah, now that’s “tres magnifique!”
Translate that to football, and it’s sort of what Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has achieved headed toward his second year in the offense orchestrated by coach Ryan Day, directed by coordinator Kevin Wilson and proctored by quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis.
“That’s typically what you get when you have someone here for multiple years,” Day said. “The first year they’re trying to learn the offense, they’re trying to figure out how to make it work, the ins and the outs.
“Then when they become fluent in the language, they start to learn the why. Again, the first year it’s like: ‘What am I doing?’ The second year it’s usually: ‘Why am I doing it?’”
Questions asked then answered is the wellspring Fields has tapped and bottled during this elongated offseason headed toward the opener next week with Nebraska. Based on his prolific production as a first-year starter for the Buckeyes last year following his transfer from Georgia, the junior dual-threat quarterback is considered one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy coming off a debut season where he was a finalist.
But he did not want to lean simply on his accomplishments and abilities as the means to take him to new heights. His leadership on the field and off has grown tremendously, his teammates and coaches say. His dedication to workouts the past 10 months has never been questioned. And he enhanced it all, he thinks, by adopting a vegan diet which he said has made him leaner and sharper.
The quest for knowledge of the Ohio State offense goes right along with the other stuff, as far as he is concerned.
“I think it was just more of a want to get better,” Fields said. “I want to be the best quarterback in college football. I want to be the best quarterback I can be.
“I wrote down what I wanted to accomplish and how to accomplish it. It’s another step of the journey.”
Imagine the challenge for Dennis. He’s in his first year as fully fledged college assistant, and it’s possible his first star pupil could end up being the most talented quarterback he ever coaches.
“One thing, it is freeing in the sense of maybe the playbook is [fully] open for Coach Day,” Dennis said. “But even for a guy like myself … who doesn’t like the challenge? Because every single day you walk in that meeting room you better be prepared. You better have the
cutups in order, you better have the tip sheets [on point], you better know what you’re talking about.
“You better be ready to go, because it’s not just: ‘OK, let me just run in here and run this meeting.’ You’ve got to prepare like you’re coaching a Tom Brady.”
Fields has shown not just the ability to learn and retain information, but also how to apply it all and adjust while on the move in the midst of a series for Ohio State.
“It’s definitely unbelievable,” Dennis said. “The guy comes to the sideline in a practice, and you ask what he saw on that play, and he’s not just talking about one thing. He is telling you what the coverage was, what the blitz was and on and on.”
It shows a grasp of not just what the Buckeyes were trying to accomplish on a certain snap, but also of how the defense was attacking, adjusting and trying to defeat it. It’s sort of a next-level, graduate-course understanding. That’s also why there is no end to the questions.
“This year I want to know why Coach Day is calling certain plays on this down or distance, or why he is doing this in this particular situation,” Fields said. “Just talking to him and asking those questions, I think I’m able to learn more that way, kind of think more like him and kind of be that coach on the field.”
“He’s trying to figure out why we do things,” Day said. “We’re getting to the point now where when he hears a call, he knows what I’m thinking. He knows what Kevin Wilson is thinking.
“That’s really, really important. That’s when you can take it to the next level.”
Fields plans to keep on asking. He knows his relationship in particular with Day, who coached quarterbacks for two years in the NFL before moving to Ohio State as an assistant in 2017 and then to head coach last year, is valuable beyond measure.
“I think Coach Day is the best quarterbacks coach in the country,” Fields said. “I might be biased … but I just think he is just one smart guy, and I’ve learned so much from him.
“I plan on learning a lot more.”