COLUMBUS — Justin Fields still has areas he can improve on at Ohio State.
He isn’t perfect, and he isn’t a finished product. But when it comes to throwing the football, it’s hard to find a throw Fields can’t make. He hit on deep throws last season. He found targets streaking across the field on crossing routes. He got the tight ends involved.
He developed chemistry with the weapons around him and made special plays with his arm. And he’ll be back for another season to show even more improvement.
“I thought from Game One all the way to the last game he really improved,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “So it’s exciting that we’re going to have him back. That’s what’s so exciting. With so many quarterbacks I feel like over the last eight years, I haven’t had a quarterback that’s started and then come back and had another year with them. This is the first time I’ve had it, since I can remember. So that’s exciting.”
Fields was a scary threat for defenses last season, but with another offseason of work — and another ful winter spent with Mickey Marotti — he can be an even better player, both in the run game and passing attack.
That’s why he’s the Heisman Trophy favorite heading into the summer.
“I’m proud of his development from where he was at this point last year to where he is right now in practice one,” Day said after the first spring practice in March. “He’s come a long way in the pocket, moving in the pocket, seeing things and drop-back protection. We have a list of things that he’s working on to get better at.
“But a lot of it is just learning to play the position in terms of this past season — as time went along he got more and more responsibility and it’s now kind of Year Two. So now we spent a lot of time talking about the intricacies of the position — protections, route progressions, coverages — things like that where we can get a little more involved and start to explain the playbook a little more.”
Part of what makes Fields so good and so hard to defend is his decision-making, which showed last season when he only threw three interceptions. Every area Day listed helped him, too. But maybe what helps him the most is his ability to make every throw on the field. He can make the throws, and he can make them accurately.
The throw to Chris Olave when Ohio State played at Michigan — on a windy Saturday in November — is proof of the kind of deep ball Fields can throw. Fields and Olave linked up for many longer throws last season, and the throw against Michigan set the tone for the rest of the game. If Fields continues to improve his deep ball, it will be nearly impossible to defend, especially if he can consistently be accurate.
But the deep ball outside the hashes isn’t the only place Fields can put touch on the ball. Arguably his best throw of the year came against Miami (Ohio) in September, when he found Binjimen Victor in the back of the end zone from 30 yards out, showing his ability to put a ball on a line and deliver a strike in a tight window for Ohio State. It also allowed Victor to go up, use his athleticism and make a play.
When Fields found K.J. Hill for a touchdown against Indiana, it looked like a routine throw. Only it wasn’t.
Fields made that throw from the opposite hash to the back corner of the end zone and hit Hill in stride. If the throw to Victor wasn’t the best of the month of September, then it might be this throw. Fields was on time in his progression and made a perfect throw where only Hill could grab it to extend the Ohio State lead.
If Fields can improve from last year, he’ll have an incredible season. A second year with Day, Kevin Wilson and the Ohio State offensive staff suggest he can do that, a scary thought for defenses in the Big Ten and around the country.
And it might just earn Fields a personal piece of hardware: The Heisman Trophy.