COLUMBUS — Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson coached two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, so when he gets excited about Justin Fields’ talent OSU fans might find that opinion reassuring.
Wilson, who was in charge of the Sooners’ offense when Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008) won Heismans, says Fields’ overall package of skills might be the best of any of the quarterbacks he has coached.
“He’s maybe as fast as I’ve seen at quarterback. He has the arm strength to make a lot of throws,” Wilson said about the Georgia transfer who will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback in its season opener against Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
“I’ve been around some talented players but his skill set is probably as high as I’ve been around,” he said.
But he quickly added that the former 5-star recruit still has something to prove. “The real ones have the skill set on Saturday,” Wilson said.
Fields was Jake Fromm’s backup at Georgia last season and passed for 328 yards and rushed for 266 yards. In high school in Kennesaw, Ga., he passed for 4,187 yards and rushed for 2,096 yards in 19 games. His senior season ended early when he suffered a broken index finger on his throwing hand in the seventh game of the season.
Fields’ decision to transfer to Ohio State, where he became eligible immediately, led to last year’s No. 2 quarterback Tate Martell and last year’s No. 3 quarterback Matthew Baldwin deciding to transfer.
That leaves last year’s No. 4 quarterback, Chris Chugunov, and Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak as the replacements if Fields would be injured.
Fields’ potential is real. But so are the questions about how Ohio State will use him and how often he will run the ball because it can’t afford to lose him to an injury.
“You’ve got to pick your spots” Wilson said. “We’re going to be smart with it. When things break down Justin is going to do a great job of protecting himself. We’ll do everything we can to minimize him being in harm’s way.”
LINEBACKER QUESTIONS: Malik Harrison, Tuf Borland and Pete Werner are all returning starters at linebacker, but that is one of the units which struggled last year during a sub-par season for Ohio State’s defense.
Co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley wouldn’t confirm all three will start on Saturday, though, when he met with the media on Tuesday.
“I think Coach Washington (linebackers coach Al Washington) has done a really good job,” Hafley said. “I think he’s rotated a bunch of different guys in there. He’s challenged them and they’ve competed with one another and they’ve gotten better.”
Baron Browning, Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant and K’Vaughn Pope are all challenging for playing time.
OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH: Head coach Ryan Day and Wilson both talked about the depth OSU has on its offensive line on Tuesday.
“I think you’re going to see probably seven or eight guys playing in the game on Saturday,” Day said. “We’ll have our starting guys go out there and I’ve said from the beginning the guys who deserve to play in the game are going to have an opportunity to play.”
Wilson said, “To say we’re just going to play five (offensive linemen) every game, I don’t think that’s the case.”
Starting right tackle Branden Bowen says Leipsic’s Gavin Cupp, who is the back-up right guard, is a player fans might not have heard much about.
“He’s battled through a lot, especially this preseason. He’s had some small nagging stuff, no big injuries or anything like that. Just to see him battle every day and come with the attitude he does helps a lot,” Bowen said.
UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS: Quarterbacks coach Mike Yurchic, Wilson and Hafley will work from the press box on game days. Co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be on the sideline.