“Those guys are still battling it out. They’re doing a great job. [...] Right now they both deserve to play. Where this week goes, we’ll see. Still another big week for us as we lead into next week and prepare for the game.”
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day held his weekly presser on Monday, announcing first and foremost the seven captains for the 2019 team, and as expected, naming Justin Fields the team's starting quarterback. While the Fields news finally makes official what most had speculated throughout the preseason, Day did reveal some interesting tidbits regarding a few other position battles that remain up in the air. Namely, the team’s starting right tackle and the backup running back to J.K. Dobbins.
The two-man fight for who will anchor the Buckeyes’ offensive line on the right side is between senior Branden Bowen and redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere. While Day anticipates that both will play, it seems as though Bowen has a bit of an edge at the moment. Although the head coach commended Bowen as having the best camp, he also stated that Petit-Frere has done a really great job, and that at the moment both deserve time. With two weeks until the team’s first game of the season, there is still time for one guy to separate themselves as the clear starter.
When it comes to the running back position, Dobbins is firmly entrenched as the No. 1 guy, but his relief has not yet been decided. As of right now, Day believes junior RB Demario McCall has a leg up on the others. McCall has been waiting for his time to shine on this Ohio State offense, and according to Day, he may finally become a weapon for the Buckeyes. The other guys in play for the job are redshirt freshman Master Teague III and freshmen Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers.
There were a few other takeaways from Day’s presser this afternoon, including a peak into their plays for building the offense around Fields. With Fields’ athleticism, Day said there will certainly be some different packages put in place to utilize his skill set, but for the most part it will still be the same Ohio State offense we have seen in years prior. Another note from Day was how his coaching staff will be set up, with Kevin Wilson, Mike Yurcich, Jeff Hafley and potentially Matt Barnes all residing in the booth for games, with the remaining coaches staying down on the field.
“I put him in the Cam Newton category. He has wheels on him. He can fly. He can open it up for receivers. Plus, you have to worry about his arm.”
Following coach Day’s presser, the players had a chance to react to the news of Justin Fields being named the starting quarterback, including Fields himself. The sophomore QB echoed the sentiment of his head coach, saying that he still has a ton of room to improve and isn't quite where he needs to be yet as the starter at Ohio State. Fields believes he has done a better job in recent practices of taking care of the ball and learning from what he sees in the film room to better his game. While the news did not come as much of a surprise after taking most of the reps with the ones, Fields did call the official starting job designation a blessing.
While Fields himself was humble about his abilities and what he has done in practice thus far, his teammates gave a ton of praise to the young QB. Wide receiver K.J. Hill compared his game to Cam Newton, touting his ability to run the football and his strong arm. Safety Jordan Fuller has also liked what he has seen from Fields in practice, saying he has all the talent in the world throwing the ball, but what really impresses him is his ability to extend plays when there is a breakdown. Running back J.K. Dobbins also felt that Fields deserves the starting job, saying he has been working really hard and showing guys they can trust him.
“The viper position, which was once played by Jabrill Peppers, will be a new wrinkle for the Buckeyes, who will be looking to have a much-improved year on that side of the ball. It was a major talking point during the spring while players tried to learn what the viper’s purpose was.”
When Greg Mattison left Michigan to join the staff in Columbus, he brought with him an idea to help fix an Ohio State defense that struggled mightily last season. That idea was a new iteration of the “viper” position. A position popularized by the Wolverines’ use of Jabrill Peppers, the viper is a player who could play in the box as a linebacker while also being able to function as a deep safety.
The responsibilities of the viper position at Michigan and the bullet position at Ohio State will be more or less the same: come off the edge and blitz or cover tight ends in a linebacker role, while also playing back in deep pass coverage like a safety. However, unlike how Michigan used the viper position as part of their base defense, with one on the field at all times, the Buckeyes will only feature a bullet in certain situations.
All of it will depend on the kind of sets opposing offenses will throw at them, but Ohio State is comfortable going out there with either its base defense with a strong-side linebacker or the hybrid defense featuring the bullet. This is especially true since they currently do not have a player on the roster recruited as a full-time bullet, although Brendon White should be more than capable of handling the job. It will be interesting to see if the position becomes more prominent in the coming years with the addition of 2020 four-star linebacker Kourt Williams, whose measurables make him the perfect bullet candidate.