K.J. Hill will be one to watch this spring for the Buckeyes.
Photo by Jim Davidson
COLUMBUS — How do you replace somebody who has done something that nobody else in Ohio State history has done? Well, you probably don't do it with just one person.
Curtis Samuel leaves Ohio State as the only player in school history with at least 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in a career. He rushed 97 times for 771 yards and eight touchdowns this past season, and led the Buckeyes with 74 receptions for 865 yards and seven touchdowns. The 74 receptions were the second-most in school history.
Samuel was named a First-Team All-American and finally gave Urban Meyer the complete hybrid back/receiver that he had been longing for since he got to Ohio State. Unfortunately for the head coach, he only got to see Samuel as a starter for one season.
Now that the path has been laid out, however, perhaps more players will be able to follow Samuel's example.
Who are the candidates? Rising sophomore K.J. Hill was Samuel's primary backup, along with the departing Dontre Wilson. Hill finished fifth on the team with 18 receptions for 262 yards and a touchdown. While he did not carry the football like Samuel and Wilson, that doesn't mean he won't be heavily used in 2017. What the H-back does is dependent upon what he is capable of doing. Philly Brown didn't carry the ball much, but that didn't stop him from leading the Buckeyes in receptions in 2012 and 2013.
Rising sophomore Demario McCall is definitely another player to watch. He played running back this past season, but it has always been assumed that he would eventually end up in the slot. At 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, Urban Meyer wants McCall to bulk up, and he definitely will during the offseason. As a true freshman in 2016 he rushed for 270 yards on 49 carries (three touchdowns) and caught four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 6.7 yards every time he touched the ball. Can he catch the ball like a receiver? Spring will reveal a lot.
Rising junior safety Eric Glover-Williams was moved to receiver this week and my guess is we'll see him in the slot, and given his high school career as a running back and option quarterback, he could also be a guy who gets involved in the running game a bit.
Rising juniors Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin could also find time at H-back, and both have some experience there already. Both are explosive athletes, and perhaps being closer to the football would help them to find a way to contribute more in the box score.
The decommitment of Tyjon Lindsey hinders this position somewhat -- assuming he doesn't recommit at some point -- but there could be another player to watch here in the 2017 recruiting class. Incoming freshman running back J.K. Dobbins is already enrolled, and while I see his future at Ohio State as a running back, he will be able to help in the slot if asked.
This could be a very crowded group of prospective playmakers this spring for the Buckeyes. As we saw this past season, when you have an H-back like Curtis Samuel, they become a very large part of the offense. That was an ideal situation for Ohio State and one that they will try to reproduce every season moving forward. Given the players on the roster, the candidate most similar to Samuel is Dobbins, but it's too early to put any kind of label like that on a player we haven't even seen yet. The good news is that we'll at least see Dobbins somewhere this spring.
K.J. Hill and Demario McCall should open as the Buckeyes'
two-headed option at H-back this spring when the first practice gets
underway in a little under two months. The McCall portion of this bet is dependent upon running backs Antonio Williams and J.K. Dobbins being able to participate in spring practice. (Not that they wouldn't be able -- they should be, just that OSU will need to have players at running back who can rep if McCall is going to move.)
Expect the H-back to again be one of the most-talked about situations during spring practice, and expect several players to make some noise there. McCall should be the talk of the offense given what Kevin Wilson has been able to do with slot receivers, but don't forget about K.J. Hill during the excitement. Eric Glover-Williams will surely have made a defender or two foolish by the time spring is over as well. I do wonder how much Parris Campbell and/or Terry McLaurin will be involved because that's just going to create a very crowded situation.