The talent of Buckeye quarterbacks run much deeper than just Justin Fields this year.
Although Fields is expected to take nearly every meaningful snap at quarterback for the Buckeyes in 2020, the Ohio State quarterback room is in the midst of a competition for the second string and the future of the position. First-year quarterback coach Corey Dennis said that every quarterback will be prepared to play at a moment’s notice.
“They’d be ready to go,” Dennis said Tuesday in a Zoom call. “They know the offense but they’re continuing to get better, they’re continuing to grow and learn. They know they’re not where they need to be but they’re definitely grinding everyday and getting where they want to go.”
Vying for the spot behind Fields is graduate Gunnar Hoak and freshmen Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud.
Although they sit behind Fields for now, Dennis said that they have been preparing each of their quarterbacks as if they were the starter due to the unforeseen circumstances of an injury or a positive COVID-19 test.
“In the past, guys would prepare to be backups. Guys were: ‘Hey, who’s the next backup, what can you do to be the backup?’” Dennis said. “Right now, you truly have to prepare like you’re the starter because you don’t know when your number will be called. It’s not like the old school, a guy got dinged up on a play or whatever it is, it truly could happen tomorrow so everyone in that room is going to prepare like the starting quarterback at Ohio State.”
Like Fields, Hoak is entering his second season with the Buckeyes. The Dublin, Ohio, native joined Ohio State in 2019, following a three-year stint at Kentucky.
In his fifth year of college football, Dennis said that Hoak brings experience and a knowledge of the Buckeyes’ system to the quarterback room.
“He’s been around for a while and has seen a lot of football,” Dennis said. “He knows our offense in and out.”
In limited snaps last season, Hoak went 6-for-6 for 104 yards and a touchdown — a 61-yarder to then-freshman Jameson Williams against Miami (Ohio).
While Hoak remains an elder statesman in the Buckeye quarterback room, the two freshmen are gunning for their shot to potentially replace Fields at season’s end.
With a lost spring and summer to prepare for their inaugural season as Buckeyes, Fields said that the freshmen have done a solid job grasping the offense since the team’s return to Columbus.
“From what I’ve seen, what they’ve done in Columbus, they’ve been doing a great job with just the amount they’ve learned from the time we’ve been back,” Fields said. “They’ve grown a lot too, they’re both fast learners, they’re both very smart guys and of course they’re both talented.”
Miller, a four-star recruit from Scottsdale, Arizona, committed to Ohio State in 2018 and stuck with his commitment despite the Buckeyes also picking up fellow class of 2020 quarterback Stroud.
Despite sustaining injuries to his knee and shoulder during his high school career, Dennis said that Miller has excelled since he got to Columbus.
“He was ready to go,” Dennis said. “He’s learning the playbook, learning the offense and he’s continuing to do everything that we ask of him.”
In his senior season — in which he played in just seven games due to a shoulder injury — Miller threw for 1,621 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Stroud enters Columbus as a five-star prospect and the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the 2020 class.
In his senior season, Stroud accounted for 3,878 yards and 47 touchdowns in 13 games at the helm of the Rancho Cucamonga offense.
With Miller and Stroud dueling it out for the future of the Buckeye offense, head coach Ryan Day said that they’ve done a fine job on the intellectual side of things but they still need to get more live reps in practice.
“There’s been a lot of meeting time because that’s really what we’ve had the most of between March and now,” Day said. “But the thing you just can’t replicate are the reps.”
With the future of the Ohio State passing game at stake, Day said that the leadership that Fields brings to the table on a daily basis has left a great impact on the development of the freshmen quarterbacks.
“He just shows them the way, shows them the way it’s supposed to look in practice, his effort and attention to detail,” Day said. “The way he prepares like a pro and takes care of his body. All those things make him a great role model.”