Film Review: Justin Fields and OSU - Weaknesses and Conclusion

I previously addressed many of the good qualities that Justin Fields will bring to the Scarlet and Grey, but new Head Coach Ryan Day is getting far from a finished product. Instead, Day and new Passing Game Coordinator/QB Coach Mike Yurcich are going to have to get out their polish and work on a few areas where Fields can really improve as he likely steps into the starting lineup for the Buckeyes. Let's take a look.

AP



Weaknesses
One of the very first things about Fields that stood out to me was his playing speed, and this actually starts with his drop. Ryan Day said that he expects Justin Fields will also work a bit under center this year. That in itself isn't a major issue, it isn't difficult to learn to take snaps from under center, and in fact, Fields took plenty from under center last year for Georgia and displayed good ball handling and mechanics getting out from behind the Center.

But his drop back is slow. No, it's not like he's working at half speed, but the speed of his drop is immediately obvious. This first one is admittedly one of, if not his worst offense in this regard. But this is a five step drop from gun that only gets 4 yards depth. By the time he's actually set, he's already getting pressure in his face (the RT gets beat pretty badly by a spin move, never the less).



Here's another example. A LB is coming on a twist and gets in clean, but he also has to go several gaps over, and Fields is bailing on the pass before he even reaches his drop. There isn't even a chance to hit a hot route here. His footwork is mostly clean, notice his head mostly stays level in his drop, he gains pretty good depth on his early steps as he's supposed to, but his gather steps, are too deliberate.


And one more example from under center.


Again, this isn't something that is terribly obvious just by looking at it. The easiest thing to do is compare him to OSU's previous QB, Dwayne Haskins, and watch how much quicker Haskins gets to the back of his drop and ready to throw.



Now, the good news is, that on two of the three plays from Fields, he made positive things happen. But the timing of your drop propagates into everything else you do, because it is often your footwork that drives your reads. If you are late getting to the back of your drop, you are late getting the ball out to your first option. When you're late getting that read completed, the timing of the routes often then takes away further progressions or forces you from the pocket because pressure is arriving. It's not seconds late, but it's late enough to be impacting him relatively consistently.

Now, Fields was a true Freshman last year, so it isn't exactly a surprise that he was slow reading coverage and getting the ball out. I'm sure when he arrived in Athens there were a few times he threw the ball into what he thought was a clean window only for it to be well covered. But his ability to read defenses and pull the trigger needs to take a step forward as he gets thrown into the starting lineup in Day's offense.

Here is a play that Georgia ran a ton for Fields, meaning he got a lot of reps in it. It's a sprint out, half field read for Fields. Georgia is running a five yard out starting from the hash. The throw and mechanics here are all great, but this coverage couldn't be clearer. And yet, when the receiver actually receives the ball, he has to stop his momentum completely just to stop himself from going out of bounds in an effort to be able to take advantage of all the space he's in. The Bulldogs ran this play about a half dozen times for Fields, and not once did the WR get the ball on his break so that he could easily turn up the sideline.


And it isn't just limited to that play, here's another example where he is late identifying the squating CB. The WR is open on the sideline, but he waits for him to clear rather than anticipating the throw. This isn't an easy window to hit, and he almost does, but he makes it harder on himself by giving the safety time to work over the top (staring down the WR rather than holding the safety doesn't help either).


Because of his arm strength, there are several instances he gets away with being late on the ball and/or not seeing underneath coverage.

Here, on a double slant pass, he only checks the coverage over the routes. In this case, the safety is capping the slot receiver, and so Fields correctly throws the ball low and to the outside shoulder to prevent the safety from jumping it. What he doesn't see is the LB, which is where his eyes should peek once the DB coverage is identified. This ball should actually go to the outside WR. Fields throws a good ball, but is lucky this isn't an INT.


And here's a TD pass where his read key is obvious (Boundary Safety). The actual movement of the read key is a little delayed because the underneath crosser gets walled off a bit, but Fields sits on this throw for two steps too long and has to fit a bullet into the back of the end zone that he's lucky the field safety doesn't under cut this.



Fields also tends to only have one plan when he starts feeling pressure.  This typically means he steps up inside the DE and escapes that way. It's often very effective, but it isn't varied. When a DE controlled the OT instead of trying to speed rush him, this often ended in a sack as Fields attempted to escape. Here, he actually has the spot route (this is another concept Georgia ran a ton for Fields), but he doesn't trust it, and doesn't pull the trigger or work back to the opposite side of the field.


He rarely steps into the pocket to by time. When he feels pressure, he bails. Here's an example where a DE gets the edge but gets pushed deep. Fields could easily step into the pocket and maintain his downfield reads, but his first instinct is to run. It works out for him because he's a solid runner. His coaches are going to want to allow the progression a chance to get even better results.



Fields can also be a little awkward as a runner when he's forced to try to make a man miss. He doens't have natural footwork for a ball carrier, and that results in things like this spin move.

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I think it's too early to tell about his ability in the zone read game. He showed ability to make reads against basic defenses, and botched reads against more nuanced looks. But I get the feeling he didn't get a ton of work at zone read, and so that's not really a major critique at this point.

Elsewhere
This is a very well done video (and often a more thorough review of his mechanics than I had provided).


Overview
Strengths
  • Very natural arm strength and great throwing mechanics provide ability to hit every pass and maintain accuracy
  • Throws extremely catchable ball.
  • Plus athlete for the position that is a very efficient and willing runner
  • Has an good understanding for his age of pre-snap looks
Weaknesses
  • His overall game needs to be sped up a lot
  • He needs to continue to improve reading coverages and then pulling the trigger on open receivers
  • Is not going to be dynamic runner on his own.
Conclusions
There is much more to be excited about with Fields than worried about. He has all the natural talent you look for in a QB and his upside is extremely high. But he isn't there yet, he is not a drop-in replacement for Haskins with the running ability of JT. Fields overall needs to speed up his game. While he is a young player and some of that is to be expected, it's a little concerning that he rarely showed flashes of actually reading coverages, and it didn't really improve over the course of the season. Young guys tend to go in two directions: 1) They get sped up and their mechanics break down; 2) they get mechanical and deliberate and play too slow. Fields appeared to be the latter his FR year. Day is one of the best in the business with QBs, and bringing in Yurcich isn't hurting anyone, but it will be interesting the progress Fields is able to make in this offense, especially immediately. It's hard to oversell just how much mentally Haskins did to make the Buckeye's offense tick in 2018 in the air. Fields will have big shoes to fill. He has all the natural ability to do it.