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Ohio State: What We Learned during first month in charge for Ryan Day

Ryan Day-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State coach Ryan Day has hit the ground running with the Buckeyes. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Ohio State Football

Ohio State: What We Learned during first month in charge for Ryan Day

COLUMBUS — Maybe Ryan Day hasn’t quite had a chance to take a breather yet, but it might finally be coming for the new Ohio State coach.

After putting together a coaching staff, working through the NFL Draft decisions of the eligible players on the roster, hitting the road to finish off a recruiting class and even squeezing in a couple basketball games on campus, Day should have a couple lighter shifts ahead of him in February.

Of course, offseason conditioning is already underway. Wednesday is National Signing Day. And spring practice looms in early March, so there’s obviously still plenty of work for him to do as he settles into the big office in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

But plenty has already been accomplished as well. And Lettermen Row is looking back at a busy January and recounting what we’ve learned about the Buckeyes as the Ryan Day Era starts gaining steam.

Ryan Day trusts his instincts

There will always be recognizable names available to Ohio State when it looks to complete a coaching staff, but Day instead sought out a couple guys who were nowhere near the public radar. The Buckeyes historically don’t look to improve by trying to hire away from a rival coaching staff, but Day again showed no hesitation in either targeting or acquiring successful assistants from Michigan. And while it’s never easy to part ways with guys who used to be colleagues, Day also handled the exits of a handful of defensive staffers as well as could have been expected. Considering how easy it might have been to play it safe in building his first staff, it should go down as an encouraging sign for Ohio State that Day clearly went through that process doing it his way and following his instincts.

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Justin Fields brings huge expectations with him to Ohio State. (Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Ohio State knows what kind of quarterback it wants

It’s always possible that there was no way to convince Tate Martell to stay. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Ohio State might not have wanted to put in much effort to do so since the addition of Justin Fields and the hand-picked recruitment of Matthew Baldwin strongly suggest that Day has made his choice about what kind of quarterback will lead his offense. For all the hype around Martell, his unquestioned success in high school and the possibilities he presents as a dual-threat weapon, he never was going to have the passing ability that Dwayne Haskins brought to the Buckeyes last year — or that the other guys on the roster would bring to the competition this spring. Ohio State has built a dynamic aerial attack, and it will continue to emphasize strong-armed passers moving into the future.

Buckeyes need more help on offensive line

The pieces of a solid group up front are waiting to be assembled, which will make for a fascinating spring as Ohio State mixes and matches personnel. But with only one full-time starter returning and a clear need to bolster the depth down the road, the offensive line is one of the most fascinating positions on the roster right now heading into spring camp. Even before the Buckeyes can return to practice, the intrigue will begin on Wednesday with National Signing Day as the program tries to wrap up its class as it pursues three big targets who could potentially be needed on the two-deep right away. Ohio State is also getting active on the graduate-transfer market to find some help for a unit that right now is the biggest question mark for the reigning Big Ten champions.

Jordan Fuller-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller put off the NFL Draft to spend another season with the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State was draft-deadline winner

Perhaps it’s hard to fully believe considering all the high-end talent leaving eligibility on the table to head off early to the NFL Draft, but Ohio State will certainly view itself as a winner at the deadline to declare thanks to the handful of choices to return. Obviously it’s a big deal to no longer have Dwayne Haskins at quarterback or first-round stars like Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones on the defensive line, but the Buckeyes had plenty of time to prepare for those defections. There was more uncertainty around key figures like wide receiver K.J. Hill, safety Jordan Fuller, linebacker Malik Harrison and cornerback Damon Arnette — and getting all of them to commit to another season in the starting lineup was a huge boost for Day’s first season in charge.

Reason for optimism with Justin Fields

Ohio State knows full well that it can’t take anything for granted when it comes to decisions from the NCAA, so everybody involved is just quietly playing the waiting game and hoping the case presented by Justin Fields is enough to get him eligible right away. But if the Buckeyes don’t want to jinx anything by talking about the case publicly, that still doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of reason for optimism around the Georgia transfer and his chances of getting his waiver appeal approved. Even without factoring in the racist-language situation that made him uncomfortable with the Bulldogs, the recent change in how the NCAA handles transfer waivers has dramatically swung the odds in favor of players — and that bodes extremely well for Fields and the Buckeyes.


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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