COLUMBUS — Mike Yurcich already had plenty of knowledge about teaching quarterbacks before arriving at Ohio State, and Justin Fields knew a thing or two about throwing the football.
But as impressive as the credentials for both were when they arrived on campus with the Buckeyes last month, there was also a realization that they were starting from scratch with a new system. Yurcich wasn’t going to act like he had already memorized the playbook, and Fields was only just getting his hands on it after his transfer in from Georgia.
So, even if one is the coach and the other is the student, right now they’ve effectively become study buddies ahead of their first spring practice at Ohio State.
“You can’t pretend,” Yurcich said. “You can’t walk into a room and think you know everything. I mean, I’m learning the offense right with him, and it’s open dialogue. I probably ask more questions than they ask, and I’m not afraid to ask some stupid questions. So I’ll ask the uncomfortable stupid questions because I don’t care. I want the information to be processed. I want us to have good football conversations, and I want us to develop the best we can in that room and to have the most knowledge that we can when we snap the ball from an information processing standpoint.
“That’s my job, and this is a very unique opportunity and a great opportunity for me to develop as a coach. But I have a huge responsibility in developing these quarterbacks, as well.”
That gig isn’t solely tied to Fields, either. And part of the reason it’s important for both the quarterbacks coach and the newcomer in the room to prepare for March is so that everybody is ready to either compete or evaluate the position battle with redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin.
Thanks to the early departure of Dwayne Haskins to the NFL Draft and Tate Martell dropping out of the competition last month, Baldwin has effectively become the most veteran guy in the room when it comes to the Ohio State playbook — and he’s never taken a snap for the program. That certainly isn’t an ideal situation for the Buckeyes when it comes to on-field experience, but it does create an interesting dynamic in establishing a relatively even playing field and the chance for the entire unit to develop together.
“We’ve both been grinding,” Fields said of Yurcich. “I think right when I got here, we met a few times alone just watching film even though we kind of had no idea what was going on. We just tried to break the playbook down and break the plays down, but I can tell he’s a great offensive-minded coach and he knows what’s going on.
“I try to get in for time with Coach Yurcich and [senior quality control coach] Corey Dennis to just study the plays, the protections and plays and all that stuff to get the playbook down as fast as possible.”
That process can take time, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for there to be struggles in the early going next month as Fields gets acclimated to the system — even if he does see a few carryovers from the pro-style system at Georgia. But that’s another reason why his arrival for spring ball was so critical for his chances of potentially being a starter this fall.
He also, of course, needed clearance from the NCAA. And now that he has that, there might be an even greater sense of urgency to get up to speed knowing definitively that he could be on the field with Yurcich calling plays for him — and those guys will need to be on the same page as they build both their knowledge and relationship together.
“It’s a process, and nowhere near where it needs to be, obviously,” Yurcich said. “It takes time, and it takes an investment on both ends and an openness and just trying to create a dialogue. For me as a quarterback coach, I have to try to learn how the quarterbacks learn the best, and everybody processes information a little bit differently. Everybody has a different mentality. Everybody has different emotions, and so for me, it’s just a real great opportunity to take the time in this offseason to learn all those things about each individual — not just Justin but all the quarterbacks in the room.
“You’re just trying to get to know everybody and develop those relationships. It takes a lot of time, and you can’t just jump into a situation and pretend that you know everything about everybody.”
That Ohio State education is already underway for both the new coach and the new quarterback.
And it’s a crash course Mike Yurcich and Justin Fields are taking together.
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