The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Justin Fields and the quarterback situation? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
How’s the qb “battle” going from people who actually get to see it? To public, it seems like a forgone conclusion that Fields will be QB…is that the sense at camp? Or does Baldwin have a legitimate shot?
— Benny (@BennyTheJet2017) March 31, 2019
Only one vote really matters. And Ryan Day still views the competition as close, isn’t in a hurry to make a decision and should absolutely be taken at his word about what he’s seeing heading into the final handful of practices this spring. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t signs that Ohio State might be trending toward establishing the pecking order heading into summer, and it’s certainly starting to seem like Justin Fields will be taking over the starting job as was widely expected when he arrived in January.
It can’t be considered a foregone conclusion, though, and there are several reasons for that. First, and perhaps most important, is how well Matthew Baldwin has been throwing the football now that he’s healthy and able to show off his arm strength, accuracy and knowledge of the offense.
For any skeptics out there who don’t believe the battle is real, it’s truly in Ohio State’s best interest for Baldwin to be pushing for the job and showing his teammates that he would be a viable option to run the attack. If the margin between Fields and Baldwin was noticeable and significant from Day One in spring, that could become a problem down the road — and wouldn’t reflect all that well on Day’s hand-picked recruiting when he plucked the Texan out of Lake Travis last year.
There’s also the matter of Fields having only been in the system now for nine practices. As Dwayne Haskins can attest, the Day playbook isn’t easy to master, and even the Heisman Trophy finalist admitted that he didn’t really feel comfortable with all aspects of it until the middle of last season. For all of the natural ability Fields brings to the position, there was a tremendous amount of work ahead of him when camp opened in March just to absorb all of the responsibilities of running such a dynamic offensive system.
But there are signals that can be hard to ignore. Some are as obvious as Fields unleashing his dual-threat skills in an open practice on Student Appreciation Day, making plays with his legs that few quarterbacks have the ability to pull off as a rushing threat. And some are a bit more subtle, like Ohio State taking his Black Stripe off midway through his first spring camp — signifying that he’s ready to represent the Buckeyes.
The Black Stripe tradition is undoubtedly cool for the program, but it isn’t a foolproof way to predict playing time or future success. And in that regard, it can be easy to get carried away by assigning too much significance to something that in the end is just recognition of a lot of hard work. But Ohio State also had to be aware of the message it would send when Fields in particular had his stripe taken off so quickly, and it adds to the perception that he’s getting up to speed and preparing to take hold of the starting job.
“[Fields] made plays, came out with a good attitude in terms of understanding what it takes to be a quarterback, preparation wise,” Day said on Monday. “He did a good job early on, and he’s only been in the offense here for, I guess, eight or nine practices. But he’s picked it up pretty quickly overall.
“The fact that he’s kind of able to run the offense right now with not a lot of reps under his belt is significant, and he’s made a few plays with his arm and his feet.”
The chance to make even more with the Buckeyes looks to be on the way. That doesn’t mean the competition isn’t real or that the depth isn’t solid for Ohio State, only that so far Justin Fields appears to be living up to the hype.
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