“I think probably what we’re going to do is get through the weekend and then on Monday probably make a final decision, but the guys are competing really, really well. I think, you know, Justin is practicing at a high level now and had a nice couple really good days here.”
Both head coach Ryan Day and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison addressed the media at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday following Ohio State’s 11th practice of the fall. Now three weeks into preseason camp, we gained a little bit more insight as to how things will shake out as we approach the start of the regular season, including a timeline for finally naming the starting quarterback.
Day announced that QB1 will be chosen on Monday, allowing the team to get through the weekend before a final decision is made. Sophomore transfer Justin Fields has long been expected to win the job with ease, and that doesn't appear to have changed, with Day adding that Fields is practicing at a high level now and has been very good recently. Fields’ only competition to this point has been grad transfer Gunnar Hoak, who should serve as a serviceable backup to Fields if things pan out the way they are expected. Fields, a five-star prospect and the eighth-highest ranked recruit of all-time, has some big shoes to fill with the departure of Dwayne Haskins to the NFL.
The QB situation was not the only depth chart related news Day and Mattison had to offer on Wednesday. Day had very high praise for sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave. After his breakout two-touchdown performance against Michigan last season, Olave has continued to impress in practice and will see the field a lot this year. Day applauded Olave’s excellent ball skills and his added strength in the offseason, saying they believe the young receiver could be an every-down type of player this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, coach Mattison has been impressed with the two guys that struggled the most on Ohio State’s defense in 2018: Pete Werner and Tuf Borland. Mattison believes Werner is a top guy at his position, commending his physicality and his character. He also likes what he has seen from Borland, lauding his intelligence and demeanor. Mattison also mentioned that Brendon White and Jahsen Wint are the two most likely candidates to be featured in the bullet position, which could be interchanged with the Sam linebacker.
“Fields finished with an elite grade of 90.1, albeit on a small sample size, in the SEC, showcasing his ability mainly against lesser competition behind Jake Fromm. Still, he completed 70.0% of his passes and didn’t make any costly mistakes by way of interceptions in the passing game, showing he’s not just a runner, he’s a more-than-capable thrower.”
Continuing the talk about Ohio State’s not-yet-named starting quarterback, PFF went ahead and ranked all 130 starting QBs in the FBS — beginning at the bottom with Rutgers’ Artur Sitkowski and going all the way to the top with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Despite having not thrown a single pass as a member of the Buckeyes, Justin Fields came in at No. 16 on the list.
The high praise and expectations for Fields continue to mount, as just yesterday the sophomore appeared in ESPN’s top-50 players in college football rankings. In his very limited playing time at Georgia, Fields completed 27 of 39 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns, with an additional 266 yards and four TDs rushing. An incredibly dynamic playmaker, Fields’ ability to beat you both through the air and on the ground have many believing he can be one of the top players in the country in 2019.
Also making the list were a couple of familiar faces, including Michigan’s Shea Patterson at No. 13, and former Buckeye Joe Burrow coming in at No. 17 for LSU. Patterson had a great year against everyone but Ohio State a season ago, throwing for 2,600 yards with 22 TDs and seven interceptions. Burrow had an excellent first year as a starter for the Tigers, putting up 2,894 passing yards with 16 TDs and just five INTs, and should be primed for a big year with a ton of talent around him.
“The buzz around Hartline is building. He went from staffer to full-time receiver coach after the Zach Smith mess blew up, and the Buckeye wideouts really took off. Hartline also has proven to be one of the best recruiters in football in a relatively short time thanks in large part to his authenticity and ability to relate to players”
It isn’t just the players at Ohio State getting high praise in preseason watch lists, but the coaching staff getting noticed as well. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic put out an article discussing 40 college football assistant coaches to watch in 2019, looking at guys who have had tremendous success at their current program and could be up for head coaching jobs in the future. Two different Buckeye assistants made the list: secondary coach Jeff Hafley and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline.
Hafley is a bit of a surprise as a new addition to the coaching staff, but he has already seen tremendous success on the recruiting trail. Hafley will be tasked with turning around a secondary that got beat way too many times a season ago, whether through blown coverages or pass interference calls. However, Hafley brings with him NFL experience after spending the past three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and has been described by his coworkers as having the “it” factor about him. If anyone is up for the task, it is Hafley, who will undoubtedly hear his name mentioned for head coaching vacancies elsewhere with a productive season.
Hartline is a no-brainer, as he has proved in such a short period of time how valuable an asset he is to the program. Beginning as an interim coach, Hartline quickly earned the full-time job, and the uptick in wide receiver production has been staggering. As a younger guy, at just 32 years old, who brings with him NFL experience from his playing days, Hartline’s ability to connect and relate to players has helped him to excel on both the recruiting trail and on the field. Ohio State should certainly look to lock him up long term, as other teams could try to bring in the rising assistant for an offensive coordinator role in the coming years.