With key departures at multiple positions for the Buckeyes entering 2019, head coach Ryan Day took time at Big Ten Media Day Thursday to update who is emerging at the open starting spots.
Multiple questions arose about Ohio State’s potential new starting quarterback, sophomore Justin Fields, a transfer from Georgia. Day isn’t naming him the starter yet, however, with Kentucky transfer and redshirt junior Gunner Hoak brought in to compete for the job.
“I know everyone wants to get way ahead of themselves and start talking about Heisman, but how about winning the starting quarterback job first,” Day said. “You can’t win the job when you’re still learning the offense.”
Day said Fields has all the physical components necessary at the position: size, athleticism, arm strength and accuracy, intelligence. What’s missing is his familiarity with the offense, something the coaching staff hopes to rectify come fall camp.
“[Quarterbacks coach] Mike Yurcich is new to our staff as well. That whole room is literally the first step of the progression,” Day said. “August is gonna be big for us. August is gonna be one of those times where we gotta move, we’re gonna have to take big steps forward.”
Four of the five positions responsible for protecting Fields are open, Day said, with junior left tackle Thayer Munford being the lone lock. Redshirt sophomores Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers are the likely starters at right guard and center, respectively, but as Day said, everything is earned.
Redshirt seniors Jonah Jackson, Joshua Alabi and Branden Bowen join redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere in the battle for left guard and right tackle.
“That’s a battle right there, because we have a bunch of guys in there that can play,” Day said. “Wyatt played good down the stretch, but he still has to win that job.
“There’s a bunch of guys vying for the right tackle, center, left guard position.”
Jackson is a Rutgers transfer and former All-Big Ten guard who arrived after spring practice ended. Day is looking to him as a main contender for the left guard spot.
“[He brings] experience, toughness, he’s played a lot of football,” Day said. “He’s gonna have to learn the offense quickly. The good news for him is that, there was a year there at Rutgers where they were actually using a lot of our same terminology, so there’s some carryover there for him.”
Linebacker is a spot that’s impressed Day with its depth. Four players with starting experience in senior Malik Harrison, redshirt junior Tuf Borland, junior Baron Browning and junior Pete Werner return to compete for playing time. All, according to Day, are being pushed by sophomore Teradja Mitchell.
For a group that received a heavy dose of criticism in 2018 after the defense allowed more yards per game than any other in Buckeye history, with no linebacker making an all-conference team, the progression is one that appears to be going well.
“[Linebackers coach] Al Washington has got his hands full,” Day said. “I talk to him all the time about you’ve got to figure out who’s going to play, and it’s a good thing. There’s a lot of healthy competition right there.”
The defensive adjustment involving Ohio State’s new bullet position could allow a deeper rotation at the position.
“With the new scheme, we actually have the ability to use different personnel groupings,” Day said. “We’ll put five DB’s in a game, we’ll put three linebackers in a game and kind of mix that up.”
Tight end is another position Day sees a great deal of competition for, with three players returning that have game experience. More multiple tight end sets could be used this season, per comments by the coaching staff, to get redshirt senior Rashod Berry, redshirt junior Luke Farrell and sophomore Jeremy Ruckert on the field.
“The tight end group right now is probably the most experienced group,” Day said. “Luke Farrell came back and had a really good offseason, Rashod Berry has played for us, and then Jeremy Ruckert is looking to make a push right now, so there’s battle right there with different skill sets.”
Ohio State’s position battles will continue when fall camp starts in early August.