When you look at what the Ohio State offense could be this season, it starts with the personnel. New quarterbacks may be the first thing you see, but surrounding them are experienced playmakers. As long as the offensive line solidifies, whoever starts at quarterback for the Buckeyes is going to have plenty to work with.
Urban Meyer’s offense is, above all else, a power running attack that also wants to spread the field far and wide. Spreading it far usually relies upon the arm of the quarterback and the ability of the outside receivers to become deep threats.
Spreading it wide relies upon those same receivers, but also incorporates the H-backs much more. Be it through jet sweeps, drag routes, or simple hand-offs, it is a position that commands attention. It is also a position that Meyer is happy to rely upon if the player can handle it.
In 2016, Curtis Samuel was that player. He was perfect for the position and could do whatever they needed. That was a luxury compared to what normally happens.
“That position has always been based on personnel,” said receivers coach Zach Smith. “It’s not like we walk in and say ‘the H-back position is some hybrid running back,’ which a lot of times people say and think.”
People see what Curtis Samuel was able to do in 2016, carrying the ball 97 times for 771 yards, but sometimes forget that he caught 74 passes for 865 yards.
“Curtis did a lot in the throw game too,” Smith said. “We motioned him into the backfield some, but when you had Mike Weber two years ago, it’s not like we were looking for a running back. Curtis was just a playmaker and we were trying to get the ball in his hands as much as we could.”
Trying to replace Samuel last year were Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill. Between the two of them, they combined for 96 catches and 1,133 yards and six touchdowns. They certainly picked up the slack in the passing game, but neither was used that much in the running game. Campbell carried the ball just 10 times for 132 yards, and Hill just twice for a yard.
“We probably did that less last year, but Parris can do all of the stuff that Curtis did,” Smith said. “There’s nothing that he can’t do. It’s just a matter of what we want to be on offense.”
The history of the H-back at Ohio State has run a gamut of skill sets. Depending on who lined up in the slot also dictated what they did. When it was Philly Brown in 2012 and 2013, he carried the ball a total of 14 times. With Dontre Wilson and then Jalin Marshall the next two years, the carries picked up.
Neither Wilson or Marshall ran the ball between the tackles that much. And neither did Braxton Miller in 2015. In reality, Curtis Samuel has been the only H-back who could run the ball up the middle and also stretch a defense any which way in the passing game.
Campbell has insisted that he can run the ball between the tackles, but with Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins at running back, why bother?
Zach Smith believes Campbell can do what Samuel did, but the offense moved slightly in a different direction last season.
“We brought in two new coordinators last year. We still did some of it, but not as much,” Smith said. “That was their influence on the offense. We found other ways to get Parris the ball. It’s all still there.”
If the Buckeyes are running the ball less at quarterback, then perhaps this season the H-back will get more involved in the running game. With the move of Demario McCall from running back to H-back, they will once again have a player at the position who has experienced life between the tackles.
With the sheer volume of characteristics on hand at H-back for the Buckeyes, there should be somebody available — including incoming freshman Jaelen Gill — to do whatever the offense requires.