COLUMBUS, Ohio — Devin Brown sat in the hospital, just after injuring his thumb in spring practice and called his dad.
With a calm demeanor, the Ohio State quarterback told Andrew Brown that he broke his finger.
Andrew’s first response: “Why aren’t you upset?” In the moment, Devin Brown knew, even as much as he wanted to play in the spring game, he wasn’t missing much.
“I was like, ‘At the end of the day, I’ll miss one week. I’ll grow from this and this won’t be anything. I’ll be right back out there,’” Brown said. “That was my mindset the whole time, that this was going to help me.”
Speaking to the media for the first time since the spring game, Brown had a similar demeanor. But he was also confident. Confident that he could put an injury that backup quarterback Tristan Gebbia called a “hiccup” behind him and compete for the starting job with Kyle McCord.
“When I got back, it was different throwing or gripping the ball, but that went away after a week of throwing,” Brown said. “I had the whole summer of throwing. I didn’t miss anything.”
One of the keys to being Ohio State’s starting quarterback is having an elite competitive drive. Ryan Day referenced the competitive spirit of Justin Fields, Dwayne Haskins and C.J. Stroud shining in big moments. Brown is a competitive guy himself, so when he got hurt, he was upset he couldn’t play in the spring game. But he knew he would get a chance to compete in the preseason.
“I would’ve liked to play in it, but I felt like from the time we started spring and the time we ended, I feel like I grew a ton,” Brown said.
He had surgery and rehabbed each day. About two and a half weeks after his surgery, he was allowed to grip a football again. He said he threw again about four weeks after the injury.
“It came off weird and I was like, ‘That didn’t feel right,’” he said.
That feeling didn’t last long. Both Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis have raved about Brown since he’s returned.
“He came back off the last break and he was ready to go from there,” Day said at Big Ten Media Days. “He didn’t miss anything, has put on some weight, got stronger and is throwing the ball well.”
Now healthy, Brown is ready to compete to earn the starting job. One of the arguments against him is his lack of experience in games. While McCord has started a game and completed 41 of 58 career passes with three touchdowns and 606 yards, Brown has yet to throw a collegiate pass.
Brown doesn’t see that as a problem, instead saying the confidence he earned in practice is better than reps against a team’s third-string defense.
“When I line up for a scrimmage and I have the best defensive line in the country coming at us, it’s different than getting some throws against a lesser team,” he said. “I’d much rather go out against our DBs and with all of our guys.”
Brown is sure that when he takes the field on Thursday for camp, his thumb hasn’t set him back and won’t be a concern. If so, that’s a good thing for Ohio State, because it needs to see the best version of both McCord and Brown before naming a starter.
McCord intentional all offseason
McCord did get a full spring in and showed off some positive things in the spring game, when he threw for 184 yards and one touchdown. Still, when he looked back at the film, he saw some reads he would’ve liked back.
He didn’t get too specific about the aspects of his game he wanted to improve on, not tipping his hand to weaknesses, but said that film study was good for his summer development.
“It gave me a good understanding of where I needed to work and things that needed to take a step in,” McCord said.
He added that, in preparation for camp, he entered the summer with a purpose. Every workout was going to have a goal. He went through strength workouts with Ohio State, and even his time at home with his quarterback trainer included detailed sessions to fix the smallest issues.
“We honed in this offseason,” he said. “We got some good throwing sessions in. It’s being intentional, coming into the weight room and focusing on every life and what I want to get done. Watching film and trying to expand in all areas.
We’ve seen a lot from McCord since Stroud left for the NFL, but now with camp starting, it’s time for him to prove himself on the field. He said this is the best he’s felt entering preseason camp.
It doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed the job — he’ll have to earn that on the field. But the spring taught him a lot about himself.
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Day has experience that could help
When Day was a sophomore at New Hampshire, he went through a quarterback battle, much like the one Brown and McCord are in now.
Day’s battle, though, wasn’t done by the time the season started. They went through the final scrimmage and into the first few games of the season. Day started the first game and was eventually named the full-time starter and kept that role for the next three years.
“You just have to go compete,” Day said. “I got myself jammed up early on with trying to be perfect. Then you start throwing interceptions because you’re worried about being perfect instead of just competing and playing. How it all shakes out, you have to prepare the best you can and compete the hardest you can. The more you play, the more confidence you get. That’s part of coaching too, is the players, bringing them along and saying, ‘Hey, you can do this,’ because there is self doubt and you have to fight that.”
He has the ability not only to share his experience in the battle with McCord and Brown, who may be competing right up until the season, but it also helps Day navigate the decision as a coach.
“When you’ve gone through it, not at this level, but still playing college football and being around the position, there’s so much that goes with it,” Day said. “You don’t know until you get in a game.”
In addition to reflecting on his own time as a player, Day looked back at Stroud’s first game against Minnesota in 2021. Ohio State won 45-31 and Stroud threw for 294 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Going into that game, Day didn’t know that Stroud was going to be a two-time Heisman finalist. Although that high level of play has become the standard for Day-coached quarterbacks, it’s hard to get a read on what’s possible until players suit up in a game.
Until then, it’s just projections, Day said.
“That’s part of it, is playing it, coaching the position, seeing things in practice, you’re projecting that based on what we see that they’ll do well in the games,” Day said.
Ohio State is going to use every resource it can to make an informed decision about the quarterback battle. It’ll chart everything. The eye test is important, too.
Day knows what a starting quarterback looks and talks like. He’s been one and coached some of the best in Big Ten history. Now he’s tasked with making a decision on the next one.
“What do you see,” Day said. “When somebody walks into the huddle on the first drive or the third-and-3 or in the red zone when the game is on the line? That’s when quarterbacks are at their best, when you have to win the game they are the most competitive guy on the field.”
(Top photo: Jason Mowry / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)