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Evaluating new, revamped Ohio State quarterback depth chart

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is expected to be the starter for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Evaluating new, revamped Ohio State quarterback depth chart

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 Ohio State starting quarterback job? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

Just because the eventual winner might seem fairly obvious doesn’t mean there isn’t a competition. Whether it’s playing actual games or evaluating quarterbacks during training camp at Ohio State, everything gets settled on the field.

So, what’s the rush? Justin Fields is almost certainly going to emerge as the top pick for the Buckeyes, but he hasn’t earned that position yet after just 15 practices. And, sure, Gunnar Hoak is going to have his work cut out for him as he tries to get a crash-course education in the Ohio State offense after his arrival as a graduate transfer from Kentucky. But why would Ohio State completely rule him out as an option before he’s even been through a practice yet?

Just like Matthew Baldwin was going to get an opportunity in a head-to-head battle with Fields in August, Hoak should be afforded the same chance. And there are a couple simple reasons why that’s important for the Buckeyes — including some that directly benefit Fields. Just anointing the five-star Georgia transfer may offer clarity on paper for the order of the depth chart, and there might also be value in allowing teammates to officially start looking to him as the leader of the offense. But it would seem even more helpful to make sure there is no possible way complacency could sneak in for Fields as he continues learning the playbook, improving as a passer and staying locked in knowing that nothing has been earned yet.

Gunnar Hoak-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State landed Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak to compete with Justin Fields at quarterback. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)

Fields was kept in the loop on the plans for Ohio State when Hoak entered the picture, and sources indicated to Lettermen Row that he has no problems at all bringing in another arm and entering August with the position still technically up for grabs. There were signs as spring camp progressed that reinforced the idea that Fields was the clear leader in the race against Baldwin, and that’s obviously not going to be different when Hoak gets on the field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in a couple months. But it’s clear at every position that Ohio State coach Ryan Day isn’t going to etch any names into the starting lineup in April with so much time still left before a game is played. Things can change — and quarterback isn’t an exception to that approach.

Ohio State has done a truly remarkable job remaking the roster at that critical position, and Hoak is a significant pickup to bolster the depth when it had dwindled down to almost nothing. Suggesting that the Buckeyes would lie to him about the situation does a disservice to Day and everything else the program has to offer in this Columbus homecoming for Hoak. And it’s also unfair to assume he fell for some sort of ploy. Hoak is a smart kid with a college degree and experience in major football, and he will have known exactly what kind of challenge he’ll be facing — as well as the opportunity that the backup role could provide him.

Have the odds shifted away from Justin Fields as the next starter at Ohio State? Of course not. But there’s no real reason for the Buckeyes to just skip the game and accept that outcome without anybody stepping on the field to prove it first.

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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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