Ohio State is again loaded, but questions remain at quarterback

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — Ohio State coach Ryan Day has decisions to make at quarterback, and he’s got some youth at linebacker, but the Buckeyes are the clear favorite in the Big Ten. Again.

The Buckeyes have won four straight Big Ten titles and as Day spoke Friday at Big Ten Media days on the Lucas Oil Field, where the Big Ten championship is played, he said he understands and embraces the pressure of being the elite of the conference.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud

“There’s been a target on the back of Ohio State for a long time, since I’ve been here, and that’s continued to be the case, and that’s a good thing,” Day said. “You want to get everyone’s best shot, but that means you’ve got to bring it week in and week out. I’ve been on the other side of that and felt what that’s like when you don’t bring it every week. If you don’t, you put yourself at risk. We definitely feel that. This year isn’t going to be any different.”

When a coach says he knows something sounds like “coach speak” it probably is. But Day is right about inexperience at key position groups. Still, Ohio State is not about rebuilding but about reloading.

“I feel good about the team,” Day said. “I feel good that we have some veteran groups, but I think that there's also some inexperience in some areas. And so it sounds like coach talk, but in order to get back here (to the Big Ten title game), we have to figure out a way to win the first game. Otherwise, it doesn't matter.

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“How is that going to happen? It happens with an unbelievable preseason and staying in the moment. That's been our mantra here at Ohio State for a long time to stay in the moment, not get too worried about what happened yesterday, not get too far out in front of you in terms of worrying about playing in championship games. You got to do a great job of maximizing the day. If we can just stay on that focus we're going to have a chance to play in some championship games. But when you look at the youth that we have at linebacker, you look at our youth at quarterback, that's something that we got to make sure we're doing a great job of addressing. But we also have really good players around them. We have really good depth on defense in the D-line, our secondary has more depth now than it's had in a while and then on offense I feel look we have pretty good depth at all the other positions.”

Quarterback is key, though, for obvious reasons. Gone is two-year starting quarterback Justin Fields, a first-round NFL Draft selection who threw for 63 touchdowns with only nine interceptions, completed 68% of his passes and was a running threat. The Buckeyes enter this season with very little experience at the position.

When OSU opens camp Aug. 3, redshirt freshmen C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and early enrollee Kyle McCord will compete for the starting job. All three participated in spring practice, and most observers give the early edge to Stroud.

Day said he sees the three as “even” now and doesn’t want to put a firm date on selecting a starter. He said he would like a decision by the second week of camp.

“In a perfect world so you can start to get them reps ready to play in that first game,” Day said of that timeline. “We’re still going to spread the reps around, because there’s gonna be three guys in this thing all the way to January, as long as we can play.”

Tight end Jeremy Ruckert said Friday all three quarterbacks have the talent and skill to be the starter.

“But playing quarterback at Ohio State is mentally challenging as far as you’ve got to be able to lead all these guys, be the voice in the huddle, be the guy they count and at the same time be able to master one of the most complicated offenses and be able to make the play when it really counts,” Ruckert said. “He’s really looking for a dude that’s willing to take that extra step and lead everybody. They’re all making real positive steps toward it, and we’re really excited to see where they end up.”

Day would like to find a starter who can carry the team for several years.

“I don’t know what this is going to look like moving forward,” Day said. “If I did, I’d probably sleep a little better now. I know we want to have that room around for two to three to four years, so that we can have experience as we head into December and January, because that’s one of the things we haven’t had. We’ve had really quarterback play in Dwayne (Haskins) and Justin, but not a lot of experience where (we’ve had) a third-year starter. We had that with J.T. (Barrett).

"We’re trying to get that again.”


Twitter: @chengelis