COLUMBUS — Too bad media cameras were still in the mandated “off” mode about midway through Ohio State’s Student Appreciation spring practice on Saturday when two of the perhaps foretelling plays of the day occurred.
One was transfer quarterback Justin Fields taking off on a run up through the right side, showing speed and elusiveness that surely Stephen A. Smith could appreciate. The other was freshman receiver Garrett Wilson streaking up the right sideline before using an aerobatic move to haul in a pass and get a foot down inbounds.
Neither came as a surprise, at least to those who have been paying attention the past couple of months, the start of Ohio State’s post-Urban Meyer/post-Dwayne Haskins Jr./post-Three Amigos era. The offensive repertoire, as new head coach Ryan Day repeated again post-practice, is pretty much the same it was in 2017 with dual-threat J.T. Barrett and last year with pass-minded Haskins: The key is to feature what the QB does best.
In the case of the dual-threat Fields, the former five-star prospect and redshirt-freshman transfer from Georgia, it could be a mix of Barrett-style runs and Haskins-type passing. That is, if he beats out redshirt-freshman Matthew Baldwin with whom he is sharing first-team reps this spring.
“We’ll continue to split the reps up and let those guys compete,” Day said.
While Fields clearly is the more celebrated of the two, folks must remember that Baldwin lit things up his senior season at Lake Travis High School outside Austin, Texas. He led his school, the alma mater of Baker Mayfield, to the state title game in Class 6A-Division 1 – arguably the most competitive prep football division in the country – before a knee injury sidelined him and put him on the mend all of last year. In other words, Baldwin can sling it, and he can run if he needs to.
But folks also must remember that Baldwin’s most lethal weapon on that 2017 Lake Travis team was Wilson, then a junior. He caught 26 of Baldwin’s 44 touchdown passes that year, among his 96 catches for 1,764 yards overall.
Saturday, in what amounted to his first public outing as a Buckeye, Wilson, an early enrollee from the 2019 recruiting class, gave a glimpse why he was considered a five-star prospect. That play down the sideline drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
It also was an example of the life-goes-on demand of college football. Haskins and his Three Amigos (Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin), who conspired to shred the school’s major passing records last season, had their last turns on the Woody Hayes Athletic Center practice field on Wednesday at the annual pro day for NFL coaches and administrators headed toward the 2019 draft.
Saturday, the fifth of 15 spring practices for the Buckeyes, was about Fields and Baldwin, primarily, throwing to K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor, Jaylen Harris, C.J. Saunders, Austin Mack, Chris Olave, Jaelen Gill and Wilson. That L’Christian “Blue” Smith has left the team with the intent to transfer at semester’s end was news that came and went with barely a notice this week, so deep is the apparent talent well.
As Day ran down the list of youngish players who have caught his eye through the first five practices — “Garrett Wilson has flashed on the outside,” was his first offering — Olave, center Josh Myers and tackle Nick Petit-Frere all made the cut among couple others.
“But again, third day in pads,” Day said. “So we’ve got a long way to go.”
Nevertheless, if the Ohio State head coach has taken note already, as in the case of Wilson, that can only be considered a sign of more looks to come.