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Ryan Day defends Justin Fields amid 'reckless' work ethic questions by claiming opt-outs don't love football

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The Justin Fields discourse has continued, with Ohio State head coach Ryan Day diving in to defend his quarterback, and attack some other players in the process.

Debate about the likely top 10 pick has picked up over the past week due to comments from draft personnel relayed by former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky on "The Pat McAfee Show," in which Fields' work ethic and willingness to improve were put into question.

Day emphatically pushed back on those questions in an interview with NBC Sports' Peter King, noting Fields' leadership in pushing the Big Ten to play football in 2020: 

“The whole idea that he doesn’t have a very good work ethic?” Day said over the phone Saturday afternoon. “I mean, to me, that’s crazy. He got done with the Clemson game [the loss in the college football playoffs in the 2019 season] and he came back and all he did was work to get back to that game. And when those other guys are opting out, what’s he do? He petitions to have a season. He put together this petition that the Big Ten athletes all signed saying that they want to play, but they want to play safely and that they don’t accept canceling the season. It was all led by Justin Fields. Where was everybody else? Where were the guys who were opting out then? You know, you don’t love the game if you’re doing something like that. This kid loves the game.

“I heard something about the last one to come in, first one to leave. First off, the scouts weren’t in our building all year. Last one in? Every morning, at least every morning we could be in the building, early, he’s in with [football sports performance czar] Mickey Marotti. The guys who were self-motivated and could do things on their own, those were the ones who made it. He was unbelievable. He changed his diet, he got stronger. He did better than most.”

Later, Day told me: “I think some people are being a little reckless with their comments.”

Great point how Fields' track record makes those concerns look silly. Less great how he apparently has to do it by claiming players who might have had legitimate reasons to opt out last season (say, a medical condition) "don't love the game." And then he complains about people being "reckless with their comments."

Fields was indeed a vocal leader in calling for the Big Ten to play football after putting its season on ice. Day was also critical of the Big Ten, saying his players deserved a chance to compete for a national championship. After postponing the season in mid-August, the conference announced a month later the season would begin in late October.

FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, file photo, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields passes against Clemson during the second half of the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game in New Orleans. Fields is foregoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft, in an announcement posted on social media, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Fields, expected to be a first-round draft choice, went 20-2 as a two-year starter for the Buckeyes. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Concerns about Justin Fields' work ethic were news to Ohio State. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Justin Fields work ethic questions came out of nowhere

Here's what Orlovsky said last week to ignite such a strong response, with analysis he claimed came from people associated with draft decision-making:

"The Justin Fields thing, I've made a couple calls about this. Why Justin Fields? Why is he falling? This and that. I can just share, these are not my opinions, these are the things that have been shared with me.

"One, I have heard that he is a last-guy-in, first-guy-out type of quarterback. Like, not the maniacal work ethic. I’ve even heard it compared to Justin Herbert, where it was like, dude, when Justin Herbert showed up, it was like a psychopath when it came to working to get ready for the draft, or even at school, like, 'Give me more, I want to work non-stop.' And I’ve heard that there are issues with Justin Fields’ work ethic. OK?

"The second thing is … Where is his desire to go be a great quarterback? I think that there’s a desire to be a big-time athlete, from what is expressed to me, but where is his desire to go be a great quarterback? And to be great, you gotta be willing to find the things that you are not good at and just freaking grind on them."

All of that is straight out of the "Big Book of Lazy Black Quarterback Tropes." Low work ethic. Wants to be famous more than be a great quarterback. Anonymous sources with no accountability if they're wrong. All about a guy who eviscerated Clemson in last season's College Football Playoff while playing through a painful rib injury.

There had been essentially zero serious speculation about Fields' work ethic before Orlovsky's comments, but there always seem to be at least one person in a front office willing to make such speculation, and draft media always seems to find them.

Orlovsky has done his best to backtrack, or at least disconnect himself from the comments. He posted a video on Twitter the day after his comments in which he relayed further comments from an Ohio State coach who called Fields' work ethic "spectacular" and another quarterback coach who also praised Fields.

He later told King he regrets how he put the Fields speculation into the world:

Orlovsky told me Saturday that people from a couple of teams did question Fields’ work ethic, but he regrets not having more “clarity and specificity” in his comments. In other words, he should have said something like, 'This is not what I know first-hand, but in talking to people I know in the league, two teams questioned Justin Fields’ work ethic, and that could be a concern.' It’s important that Orlovsky be free to pass along information he finds credible, but it’s equally important to put that information in context.

The NFL draft remains scheduled for April 29, with as many as five teams in the top 10 seemingly poised to take a quarterback. It's hard to imagine Fields not being one of them.

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