QB auditions take center stage in Ohio State spring practice
Two-year starter C.J. Stroud is off to the NFL in the draft next month, which means Ohio State coach Ryan Day needs to find a new quarterback for 2023.
With no obvious heir apparent to Stroud, the quarterback derby is the overarching storyline as the Buckeyes open spring practice on Tuesday.
The race pits third-year backup Kyle McCord, who has seen limited action in his first two seasons, against second-year player Devin Brown.
“I'm hoping one of them emerges and we can name a starter (after spring practice). I really do," Day said last month. “The way our dynamic is, it would be great for our program to be able to do that.”
McCord, from suburban Philadelphia, got mop-up duty last season, completing 16 of 20 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. He got more playing time in 2021, even starting a game and throwing for 319 yards when Stroud sat out for a rest in a rout of Akron.
Brown, who was coached at his Utah high school by former Buckeye quarterback Joe Germaine, has yet to throw a collegiate pass.
“There definitely is a blank slate,” quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis said of the competition. “I think that just the difference is the guys kind of know what areas that they want to work on, they want to improve on, and they want to go on. But no, absolutely. It’s a blank slate and it’ll be a fun spring for sure.”
For depth at the position, Day picked up transfer Tristan Gebbia, who had been a backup quarterback at Oregon State. An aspiring coach, Gebbia is expected to mentor the young quarterbacks.
Day has a good track record in these situations. He faced a similar quarterback quandary entering spring practice in 2021.
Day had enjoyed the services of Georgia transfer Justin Fields, who became a standout and the starter in 2019 and '20. When Fields left for the NFL, the candidates to succeed him, Stroud and Jack Miller, had seen little playing time, partially because the 2020 season was shortened by the pandemic.
Stroud got the nod in 2021, broke school records and became a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist. Miller ended up transferring.
For all his accomplishments, Stroud couldn't beat hated rival Michigan in two tries, so Day will be looking for someone who can. Despite the Michigan loss, Ohio State backed into the College Football Playoff last season only to lose to eventual national champion Georgia 42-41 in a wild semifinal.
Regardless of who wins the job this time, Ohio State will — as usual — be loaded with elite offensive talent.
“When you see the cast surrounding them, you couldn't be more excited to be quarterback in college football," Day said.
Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming will make up one of the best group of receivers in college football.
Veteran running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams both return to share the carries after both battled injuries last season. Tight end Cade Stover, a key receiver for Stroud, also returns.
Offensive line coach Justin Frye will start auditioning potential starters after losing three first-string guys from last year's team. Victor Cutler, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe, will immediately be in the mix.
Cornerback was a conspicuous weakness for the Buckeyes last season due partially to injuries. They'll hope Denzel Burke can play like he did in 2021 when he showed so much promise as a freshman, but other veteran experience is lacking.
“What we’ve got to do now is we’ve got to create competition. We’ve got to open this thing up,” cornerbacks coach Tim Walton said. “Let guys go earn jobs and go play and go compete. That’s what it’s about.”
The Buckeyes will get a first look at Syracuse transfer Ja’Had Carter, who could win a starting job at safety after leading the Orangemen in turnovers last season.
The Buckeyes will have 15 practices, culminating in the annual spring game April 15.