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Ohio State: Observations on offense from open practice with Buckeyes

Ryan Day-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State coach Ryan Day still doesn't see enough reason to name an official starter at quarterback. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Ohio State: Observations on offense from open practice with Buckeyes

COLUMBUS — The numbers are still close for the Ohio State quarterbacks.

The first-team reps, though, appear to be favoring one guy over another heading into the final week of spring camp.

Justin Fields didn’t get every rep with the starters on Friday morning during practice No. 11 for the Buckeyes, which Ohio State coach Ryan Day opened up for the media. But the Georgia transfer continued to have more chances to lead the top unit than Matthew Baldwin as the two battle for the job, even if Ohio State isn’t ready to make any sort of pecking order official at this point.

“Not really,” Day said. “Looking at it, the completion percentage is pretty close right now with those guys right now. We’ve been playing a little bit more zone coverage, so the completion percentage is kind of on par with what Dwayne [Haskins] was last spring. So, we want to keep working on that heading into the last week here, I think we should be a little higher than we were last spring because of the style of defense we’re going against.

“But today was an opportunity to kind of move the ball up and down the field a little bit more and play more situational stuff, so I thought the guys competed really well. And I thought they both did a good job.”

Both passers had their moments, and the offense as a whole had plenty to celebrate even after officially coming up short against the defense according to Ohio State’s elaborate winner-loser scoring system for practices. That was just one part of the lessons Lettermen Row learned about the Buckeyes on Friday morning as the coverage kicks off here with the offense.

Ohio State-Justin Fields-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields impressed during an open practice on Friday morning. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Justin Fields flashes big arm for Ohio State

He’s not perfect, and Justin Fields did miss a couple open throws early in practice. But by the time Ohio State was going seven-on-seven, the former five-star recruit was ready to put on a show with his arm strength, accuracy and confidence uncorking the football. Fields was throwing the football into tight windows, delivering passes with velocity and then showing an ability to read coverages to find open receivers as practice progressed. Mix in a couple runs that flashed his dual-threat ability and it was hard not to come away with the impression that Fields will eventually be the starter for the Buckeyes.

Nicholas Petit-Frere making big push for Buckeyes

The absence of starting guard Wyatt Davis due to sickness actually allowed for a glimpse at the pecking order at tackle, and it appears Nicholas Petit-Frere is starting to pull ahead as he fights for the vacant starting job on the right side. The fact that Branden Bowen kicked inside is a reminder of just how valuable his versatility is for the rebuilding offensive line unit as a whole, but it can also be viewed as a sign of progress for Petit-Frere that he didn’t budge from the tackle spot as he looks to tap into his five-star potential. With Joshua Alabi holding down the left side while Thayer Munford recovers from injury this spring, Ohio State has the makings of a solid group of four tackles to fill out the depth chart. But it’s Petit-Frere heading into the end of camp who is starting to build some momentum.

Jaelen Gill-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State offensive weapon Jaelen Gill continues to shine in spring camp with the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Jaelen Gill will be weapon for Ohio State

As crowded as the competition might be for Ohio State players looking to touch the football, Jaelen Gill isn’t leaving much doubt that he needs to be included in that rotation. Whether it’s taking handoffs on jet sweeps when the Buckeyes line up with the quarterback under center or catching slants and creating mismatches in the flat as a receiving target, Gill has turned in one of the more eye-catching springs on the roster in March and April. The dynamic offensive weapon didn’t have the smoothest transition during his first year on campus, but Year Two for Gill is already showing the potential to be far more productive.

Matthew Baldwin can deliver deep throws

Even if the present might soon belong to Fields, there are still signs that the future would be in capable hands with Matthew Baldwin. The redshirt freshman from Texas missed on a couple throws during the early portion of practice, and it can be a challenge to take on the loaded Ohio State defense when the offense remains a bit shorthanded — particularly on the offensive line. But Baldwin uncorked a handful of deep throws down the sideline and one into the corner of the end zone for a score that put his upside on display and offered a reminder of why Day recruited him. This was never the targeted season for Baldwin to emerge as the starter, but his development appears to be right on track and he could certainly run the offense in the fall if needed.

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I’m looking forward to seeing Gill play at the Spring Game.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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