4.38. That number really caught my attention. 4.38 is how fast quarterback Justin Fields ran the 40 last week. Four point three eight seconds. That’s wide receiver/cornerback speed. That time didn’t catch my attention because it was run by a quarterback. It caught my attention because of the pressure a quarterback with that kind of speed can put on a defense, especially when someone like Ryan Day is calling the plays. I don’t doubt Day has come up with all kinds of things to utilize Fields’ speed, and put opposing defenses into very bad situations.
By all accounts the read option is returning to the Buckeye offense, and Fields is doing well with it. A staple of the Urban Meyer era, it all but disappeared last year with rocket-armed Dwayne Haskins leading the offense. With that combination of size (6’3”, 223 pounds) and speed, Fields becomes a very dangerous runner. Defenses are not going to be able to collapse on J.K. Dobbins as soon as he touches the ball like they did for much of last season. They’ll have to play the read option honestly because they will not want Fields running free. I don’t want to see Fields carry the ball 15-20 times per game, but I think a 10-12 range is a good one. You can bet Day has come up with ways to use just the threat of Fields running the ball to keep defenses back on their heels.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Braxton Miller was lightning fast, could make defenses look silly when he carried the ball, but had a scattershot arm. Well, folks, therein lies the key to this whole thing. Justin Fields has got to be an accurate passer. He doesn’t have to be Dwayne Haskins. He just has to hit his open receivers, and make a few tough throws to keep defenses from creeping towards the line of scrimmage as a game progresses. When he drops back or rolls out, he needs to go through his reads, AND learn to keep the play alive in the pocket before taking off. He can’t drop back/roll out, take a look at one receiver, and then decide to take off running if that receiver is covered. Because of Day’s coaching, I don’t think he’ll do that. However, I do believe if he shows he can be a consistent passer, I think rolling him out is going to put a ton of pressure on a defense. Get him out on the perimeter, and make the defense decide what they want to defend. Sit back in coverage, and it opens things up for Fields to run. Come up to stop him from taking off, and there will be open receivers. Only once in his three seasons as OSU’s starter did Miller complete more than 60% of his throws (63.5% in 2013). Haskins was just over 70% last year. I’d love to see Fields in that 65-67% range. If he can do that, I think you’ll see this offense really take off.
All of the tools are there for Fields to be a dominant player. As I’ve mentioned, he has a rare combination of size and speed for a quarterback. Being coached by Day means he will have good fundamentals and mechanics. The X-factor in all of this is something I mentioned before the beginning of spring practice: how well does he understand the offense. Fields said the other day the biggest challenge he’s had so far is taking what he’s learning in the classroom, and transferring it to the field. This is something I’m not too awful worried about right now. If I’m still hearing this in another ten days, then I’ll be worried.
Day firmly believes there will be growing pains for the first six games of the season. He fully expects mistakes to be made, “There’s going to be growth, there’s going to be mistakes, and we’re going to have to work through those things.” The first four of those six opening games (Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Indiana, Miami of Ohio) can pose a few challenges, but I don’t see them being serious threats. The week five matchup with Nebraska is on the road, but I expect Fields to be getting comfortable with the offense at that point, and then the Buckeyes return home to play Michigan State. As long as Fields is not completely lost in the offense, I think the Buckeyes make it through those first six games. Then, if Day is correct, Fields should take off, and be a dominant player who drives defenses up the walls with that 4.38 speed.
So Far, So Good
While a couple of 2018 starters have missed some practice time recently (left tackle Thayer Munford and receiver Austin Mack), the Buckeyes appear to have made it through the first week of practice without any major injuries. There isn’t really a whole lot to talk about just yet in regards to position battles, but there are a few things we can take a look at.
Justin Fields has been taking reps with the first team offense. No surprise there. But, Chris Chugunov is working with the second team, and newly transferred Gunnar Hoak behind him. Hoak is expected to eventually be the backup to Fields. Chugunov was the team’s third-string quarterback last season, and played in just one game after transferring from WVU.
It took just four days for Rutgers transfer Jonah Jackson to lose his black stripe, and become an official Buckeye. I don’t think there’s any question he’ll be a starter on the offensive line; most likely at left guard.
Binjimin Victor has been first in line at the X position during receiver drills, with Jaylen Harris behind him. At the Z position, Chris Olave has been at the head of the line followed by redshirt sophomore Ellijah Gardiner, who played in ten games last season mostly on special teams last season. But, the guy Justin Fields mentions first when asked about the receivers is freshman phenom Garrett Wilson, who showed off his considerable abilities in the spring after enrolling early. Although third at the X right now, there is no question he is going to contribute heavily to the offense. Day is a little more tempered in his enthusiasm because he feels Wilson needs to learn how to develop his talent and discipline. Gotta admit I’m really excited about what he can possibly bring to this offense.
With the emergence of Teradja Mitchell at middle linebacker, Baron Browning has been seen working some outside. Tuf Borland is still expected to be the starter in the middle, but it looks like it is going to be very difficult to keep both Mitchell and Browning off the field.
According to Day, offensive lineman Branden Bowen appears to finally be confident on that leg he broke during the 2017 season. This is great news because he’s one of the most versatile linemen the Buckeyes have. He started at right guard in 2017 before the injury, and is currently competing for the right tackle spot with Nicholas Petite-Frere. Bowen being completely healthy means the team has a quality, veteran lineman they can plug into multiple spots if there is an injury.
True freshman center Harry Miller had his black stripe removed the other day. Coaches and teammates are raving about how quickly he has picked up on the offensive line calls, and say they’ve never seen a freshman learn them this fast. Redshirt sophomore Josh Myers, the expected starter at the position, said he never really learned all of the calls until the middle of last season. Also, true freshman receiver Jameson Williams had his stripe removed as well. Both Miller and Williams are expected to see playing time this season.
During his post-practice press conference on Tuesday, Day said something that caught me by surprise. He said the Buckeyes do not have a legitimate backup to J.K. Dobbins right now. This is a big concern for me because Dobbins needs someone to take part of the workload off of him. Demario McCall has bounced around to a few different positions in his time with the Buckeyes, but is now concentrating solely on running back. I really like his skillset because they can do so many things with him. Master Teague is a mean, physical runner who I really like, but is nursing an injury right now. There’s still three weeks to solve this. Let’s see where things stand in the next ten days.
I have to be honest and say Thayer Munford and Austin Mack on the sidelines during practice is a concern. This is pure speculation on my part, but I’m hoping this has nothing to do with the injuries that ended their 2018 seasons. Mack’s season was over when he broke his foot against Purdue, but he took part in spring practice with no issues. I’m inclined to say his absence from practice has nothing to do with that foot. Since the offense is going back to running the read option more this year, they really need Mack healthy because of his blocking ability. As for Munford, he missed the Rose Bowl, underwent back surgery, and missed spring practice. This is a situation I’ll be keeping a close eye on because back surgery is scary. It can be something a player never quite recovers from. Josh Alabi filled in for Munford at the Rose Bowl, and is currently working with the first team, but Munford was turning into a special player. He was beginning to show signs of developing into a someday first round draft pick. Hopefully this missed practice time has nothing to do with his back. Information is going to be hard to come by because Day has said he will not be discussing injuries.
The End, Hopefully
Late last week Ohio State released a ton of documents from the school’s investigation into the Urban Meyer/Zach Smith situation. While many names were redacted in the text messages, they still shed some light on events leading to Smith’s firing. Meyer had been concerned about Smith for some time, and his firing was for a core value violation and cumulative issues. But, I’m very sure there were a lot of disappointed members of the national media because the texts did not provide the smoking gun showing Meyer covered up allegations of domestic abuse by Smith’s ex-wife. Let me say that again in case it wasn’t heard: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF A COVER-UP BY URBAN MEYER. A lot of national media members, who screamed of a cover-up last year, have been awful quiet about the release of these texts. It doesn’t fit their narrative, so they ignore it.
But, the texts did put one coach a bit on the hot seat. In early 2018, Meyer and Smith had a conversation about a job offer Smith received; Meyer was able to talk him into staying with the Buckeyes. So, just who extended a job offer to Smith? None other than Nick Saban at Alabama. Once this little gem hit the media, Saban told anyone who would listen this was not true. OK coach, if it isn’t true, why would Urban Meyer and Zach Smith be having conversations about it? I’ll put this delicately: Nick Saban is a lying sack of shit. He’s scared to death of being roasted by some for offering a job to a guy now considered pariah by many. He’s lying. Plain and simple.
I could have devoted much more to this story, and made it the main focus of this particular blog. But, I do these blogs because I love talking about the Buckeyes, and I found I enjoy writing. I spent all of last August writing about the Meyer/Smith situation, and just don’t feel like devoting much time to much ado about nothing. Hopefully, this is the last we’ll hear of the situation.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted seven new members, including former Chiefs safety Johnny Robinson. His selection was long overdue, and came nearly 48 years after he retired. Thinking of his situation got me considering who else falls into the category of a “Should Be.” Players who “should be” in the Hall of Fame, but for some reason are not.
The first name to come to mind is Cincinnati cornerback Ken Riley. He spent 15 years with the Bengals, and is still tied for fifth on the all-time interceptions list with 65 after being retired for almost 36 years. The most amazing fact about him is he was a first-team All-Pro in his final season. That’s unreal.
It’s a shame Raiders’ receiver Cliff Branch passed away before being inducted as he deserves. He died last week at the age of 71. Known for his blazing speed, he caught over 500 passes in his 14 seasons, and averaged over 17 yards per catch; he was a part of three Super Bowl winning teams. I know Steeler fans will have a fit when I say this, but if Lynn Swann is a hall of fame receiver, so is Branch. If you look at Swann’s most productive seasons in the league, Branch caught more passes for more yards over that same time period. He is a definite “Should Be.”
Joe Jacoby was one of the premier offensive tackles of the 80’s, and was named to the league’s all-decade team. He won three Super Bowls with the Redskins, and twice was first team All-Pro. How on earth is this guy not in the Hall of Fame yet?
The selection committee corrected an egregious wrong when they finally elected Packer great Jerry Kramer last year. Now it’s time for them to add Kramer’s partner at guard, and allow Fuzzy Thurston to take his rightful place in Canton. The greatest guard combination the league has ever seen helped open holes for one of the great rushing offenses in league history.
Unfortunately, Thurston passed away a few years ago, but inducting him is still the right thing to do.
There are certainly other names that come to mind. Receiver Ken Burrough, and Buckeye all-time great linebacker Randy Gradishar come to mind. But, the four I mentioned tend to jump out at me right away as “Should Be’s.”
Dwayne Haskins was intercepted twice last night when he misread a couple of coverages in his debut for the Redskins. But, he also threw two beautiful passes that should let everyone know just what he is capable of doing. Speaking of beautiful passes, Baker Mayfield’s touchdown throw was one he dropped in over a safety. It is his reminder that last season was not a fluke. Enjoy your weekend everyone, it’s almost that time of year.