Spring practice begins and so does Ryan Day’s next season of evaluation to determine his next quarterback: Kyle McCord or Devin Brown. New Buckeye beat writer Jeff Gilbert reports from ground zero.
By Jeff Gilbert for Press Pros
Columbus, OH – The new Ryan Day, the head coach who wants to know more details about every position group on his football team, roamed the indoor practice field Tuesday morning more like an observer than a coach.
He practiced his more CEO-like approach on the first day of Ohio State’s spring practice. He didn’t need a tour guide, but, perhaps, he saw some things he didn’t expect. Then the expected happened.
“You’re able to see from a big picture view, but it doesn’t take long before I’m running over there coaching up the quarterbacks,” Day said.
No judging here. Like the rest of us, Day wants to know who will play quarterback for the Buckeyes when the season starts Sept. 2 at Indiana.
Unless you completely divert your attention from football between seasons, you know third-year Kyle McCord and second-year Devin Brown are the quarterbacks competing for one of the highest profile jobs in college football.
If you are the fan who obsesses over every piece of information that trickles out of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, you probably are vocal with an opinion about who should be QB1.
If it’s McCord, you are partial to the pocket passer, they guy who is fundamentally sound and looks the same on almost every throw. You loved Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
If it’s Brown, you like the guys who move around and make what we now call the off-platform throws, the ones QB coaches didn’t use to teach. You love Aaron Rodgers and you really love Patrick Mahomes.
Day says he would be happy to name a starter after the April 15 spring game, but he won’t guarantee it no matter how many times he is asked. You can have a favorite, but the truth is it almost doesn’t matter who wins the job. Both were highly recruited, are well coached and are confident.
And with the receivers and running backs surrounding the quarterback, it’s more than likely that the winner will be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud earned that trip, and it’s a good bet either McCord or Brown will.
Day was asked about the ideal quarterback. The possible answers are pocket passer, mobile guy or a combination of both. If he discerns which one does the supposed weakness the best and projects as the best combination of both passer and runner, that will make the decision easier.
During a long answer to the question about what is ideal, Day made these points:
“When you’re looking at the ideal thing, there really isn’t the ideal.”
“When you can create and extend it’s really the X factor when the quarterback can do that.”
“There’s a lot of factors and variables that come into it and each quarterback’s a little different.”
Later during his 20-plus minutes in front of the media, he added: “Each quarterback has a different style, But ultimately what you’re trying to get done is equate numbers in the run game and then have the ability to extend when applicable in the pass game.”
That sounds like what the Brown camp wants to hear. But no one really knows yet what McCord can do outside the pocket. We thought we knew what C.J. Stroud couldn’t do outside the pocket until he proved differently in the playoff loss to Georgia. This past week at the NFL Scouting Combine, Stroud expressed regret at not being more of a threat to run and throw on the run.
Whether it’s an all-things-being-equal scenario or not, Day did say there is a primary trait he wants.
“The first thing is leadership,” he said. “You have to be felt and heard.”
When Day found his way back to his natural habitat, what he heard from both QBs encouraged him. He said after good plays and bad plays the quarterbacks spoke up.
“It’s our job as quarterbacks to lead the team and to drive the team down the field and score touchdowns, and being that leader is critically important,” Day said. “We’re going have a great supporting cast, so the quarterback doesn’t need to be superhuman. He just needs to do his job. Make routine plays routinely. But the number one thing we’re looking for is leadership and toughness.”
J.T. Barrett showed Day how toughness can lead a team. Dwayne Haskins showed him how a pocket passer keeps an offense moving. Justin Fields showed him what a guy with running back speed and moves can make up for. And Stroud reiterated what Haskins proved.
The only opinion that matters is Day’s, and if he has an inkling he won’t say.
The prevailing opinion puts McCord in the lead. He’s a year older and he started and won against Akron in 2021. If McCord is in the lead in Day’s mind, there is less to prove. Coaches are more patient with and more forgiving of their starters. Mistakes by backups are magnified. When the competition for playing time is close, coaches lean on their first instinct, the guy who is most dependable. Consciously or subconsciously, it validates their first choice.
Now the two quarterbacks must learn to balance three things: What they know they do well, what Day knows they do well and what skills there are questions about. Quarterbacks get labeled as passers or runners and always want to show they can do both.
That’s why Troy Smith stopped running so much. He proved he was a passer and won a Heisman Trophy. And that’s why Stroud said what he said this week at the combine. He wants at least one NFL team in need of a QB1 to believe he can go off platform.
When McCord was asked to describe himself, the answer had nothing to do with his arm strength, his accuracy or his ability to make all the throws required to be a first-round draft pick.
“I would just say a playmaker,” he said confidently. “Whatever the team needs me to do to win, that’s what I’m going to do. Obviously, the film will speak for itself. But at the end of the day, just a competitor.”
And the McCord camps loves that answer.
For the next 14 practices, McCord and Brown will work at distinguishing themselves on the field, in meetings and in film sessions.
Brown, however, found another way. Not that it will factor into Day’s decision, but the Brown camp will love it.
Brown is wearing No. 33 in honor of Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, the Hall of Fame quarterback from the 1930s and ’40s who was one of the great early quarterbacks to show what the passing game could be.
“He’s a legend,” Brown said. “That’s the original quarterback number, in my opinion. I want to rock the original quarterback number.”
Day said as long as Brown is good with the unusual QB number, he is. And he chuckled at the first thought he had when Brown asked him if it was OK: “I felt Larry Bird.”
Of course, the New England guy went to Larry Bird.
After approving the number, Day said, “You’re going to stick out a little bit.”
In this competition, Brown sure hopes so.