For the first time in a very, very long time, Ohio State will enter a season with precisely zero quarterbacks who have ever thrown a pass in a college game before. At some places, this is what people would call “a dire situation.”
For Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline, however, this is the kind of thing that is right up his alley. No, not because he’s one of those people who just likes change. He likes what the inexperience at quarterback means for the growth of his receivers.
“Oh, I love it,” he said last week. “I love the situation with a young quarterback because it just asks us and demands us to be more detailed than ever.”
Those are the words of a master technician. A guy who understands that learning requires focus and the situation his receivers find them in this year will require more focus than ever before.
No starting quarterback has been named yet for the Buckeyes. Redshirt freshmen CJ Stroud and Jack Miller will continue their competition with true freshman Kyle McCord into the summer and then preseason camp. They will each get better by the day, but none of the three are expected to immediately be at the level of OSU’s most recent quarterbacks.
Since Ryan Day has been at Ohio State, he’s coached arguably the Buckeyes’ three greatest quarterbacks in JT Barrett, Dwayne Haskins, and Justin Fields. Barrett holds virtually every OSU career record. Haskins owns the season records. Fields, meanwhile, was only the best Ohio State has ever seen at the position. That’s a lot for the next guy to live up to, and it is going to take them time to get to the point where they have a complete command on the offense.
Until that happens — and then after as well — the Buckeye receivers have to make sure they are on point with everything they do. Not that that wasn’t always the goal, but with a guy like Haskins or Fields, a receiver could get away with being a little imprecise.
“I mean, not that these guys can’t bail us out at times, but to be exact with landmarks, to be very clean with body language, to not confuse people,” Hartline explained. “Having a younger quarterback that is maybe not learning it all the first time, but they also don’t have a large body of work, so I think it’s awesome. It really provides a lot of clear direction on what’s expected. Are we doing it? Are we not? And then we don’t have the cloudiness all the time of maybe quarterbacks making us right. They obviously do, but anytime quarterbacks make you right, it kind of covers up the real problem, the real inefficiency.”
With inexperienced quarterbacks, the sun will be shining on the Ohio State receivers for all to see. Hartline won’t have to look hard to see if his guys are doing things the right way. The receivers seem to have gotten the message based on their play in the spring game, but there were also drops and missed passes that perfectly exhibit what Hartline is talking about regarding the level of concentration that is going to be required from his players.
With receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, the Buckeye quarterbacks are certainly in good hands. Both players posted productive numbers last year catching passes from Fields, but last year is over and doesn’t mean as much to Hartline as one might think.
“Production doesn’t mean it was good. Production means it was good enough, and we’re trying to aim for excellent,” he said. “There’s a little more ownership now on knowing we’ve got to take care of our duty to handle and help the young quarterbacks. So I love the situation right now. Obviously, we get through spring and we don’t have any young quarterbacks anymore. We’ll carry that tag probably for the spring practice. But once we clear that, man, there’s no rookie mentality anymore. We got to go.”
Hartline’s room is more than just Wilson and Olave, however. It currently houses three true freshmen who are experiencing everything for the first time and two second-year players who had a chaotic freshman season that didn’t have as much teaching as the coaches wanted.
For every receiver on Ohio State’s roster, the spring was a crash course in all of the little things that Hartline has been preaching. By the time the Buckeyes take the field in Minnesota for their season opener, Hartline’s plan is to have a room full of technicians.
And there’s nothing dire about that.