"To Do" List: Tailbacks

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Last updated: 02/28/2012 1:19 PM
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Stan Drayton's 'To Do' List for the Buckeye Tailbacks
By Tony Gerdeman

With a mostly new staff in place at Ohio State, Stan Drayton is a fortunate exception in that he already knows quite a bit about his players. Being that he was here last year as well, he entered the offseason with an idea of where his players stood.
Stan Drayton
Stan Drayton

As the receivers coach last year, he didn't get to coach his new players much, but he clearly has more familiarity with his group than any of the other offensive coaches will have with theirs.

This should give him an advantage in preparing them for the 2012 season, but with a brand new system in place, he will still have to be able to match each individual's skills with what Urban Meyer and Tom Herman want done on offense.

With that in mind, we have imagined what a 'To Do' list for Drayton might look like as he prepares his tailbacks for Spring ball and beyond.

The understood preamble to all of this is "Hold on to the ball."

1. Find out who does what.

Meyer's teams have traditionally run the ball from all over the place. They will run wide, they will run between the tackles, they will fake both in favor of the other, and receivers and quarterbacks are just as likely to carry the ball as a running back.

Drayton will need to figure out who excels in each of these roles. Carlos Hyde would seem like a guy who, despite being the fastest tailback on the team, is more of a north-south guy. Jordan Hall, meanwhile, has the quickness to make people miss out in space.

Each tailback will be taught all of the plays, and rep them as well. but the fact remains that some players will always prefer certain plays and situations. However, you don't want to get too situationalized to where a defense knows what is coming, although even if they do get a bit predictable, that's where the option reads equalize matters.

The purpose of this offense is to make a defense defend the entire field. Knowing who does what best is a large part of that. When Meyer and Herman are coming up with a list of their top playmakers, they are also coming up with a list of plays that those players excel at. It's up to Drayton to help them figure that part out.

2. Find out how many carries your guys are actually going to get.

In Urban Meyer's two stops prior to arriving at Florida, running backs tallied about 55% of the total number of the teams' carries. In his first season at Florida, without a real running threat at quarterback for the first time in his career, that number jumped to 61%. It still marks the highest percentage of carries given to running backs in his career.

Compare that number to the Buckeyes over the last four years—and remember that they have had a dynamic running quarterback in each of those years:

2011: 66% of the carries went to running backs
2010: 70%
2009: 66%
2008: 67%

It's not just the quarterbacks who take carries away from the tailbacks under Meyer, because the receivers do it as well. This makes an offense more unpredictable, but it also makes the number of available carries even smaller than normal.

It should be noted that in Meyer's two National Championship seasons, his tailbacks carried the ball 45% of the time in 2006 and 48% of the time in 2008.

Those numbers should be higher at Ohio State for a few reasons. Firstly, the talent at tailback is better in Columbus. Second, Braxton Miller won't need to be the short-yardage back that Tim Tebow had to be. Third, there is no Percy Harvin on this team, and there will likely never be one. Receivers will still carry the ball, just don't expect them to be as effective as Harvin was.

But while the number of carries that Drayton can expect will be higher than they were at Florida, he'll still need an idea of how much work his guys will be getting.

3. Figure out how to split the carries that you do get.

This involves much of the first two items on the list, but there is also the need to get running backs into a groove. For many tailbacks, they're better on carries 11-20 than 1-10. There probably won't be 20 carries for one tailback very often in this offense, so this will have to be dealt with on and off the field.

Each back will have to be prepped for his most likely scenarios to be called upon. That way they can be aware and mentally prepare themselves when sent into the game. If one back is working well, then they have to be well-versed enough in all of the plays to stay on the field.

As much as competition amongst the players is stressed, there may not be any more competitive grouping than the running backs. Carries will be more scarce than in the past, so each tailback will have to work harder for touches than they ever have before.

4. Keep your running backs happy.

This will probably be impossible. Running backs transfer out every year because of a lack of touches. The real key will be making sure the best running backs are happy.

It wouldn't hurt to make sure that everybody knows that it's rare for a freshman or sophomore to just come in and take over at a place like Ohio State.

Paying dues on the depth chart is no different than paying dues in the weight room or on the practice field. Players will have to understand that everything is earned.

This may not keep them entirely happy, but it should keep anybody from leaving due to lack of touches, especially when you consider that even though Meyer doesn't load up his tailbacks with carries, he does spread those carries out among everyone.

For some players stuck towards the bottom of the depth chart, they may even get more looks than they would have under previous management.

5. Find out if there is something that the freshmen do that the upperclassmen don't.

This will only apply to Bri'onte Dunn in the spring, as Warren Ball won't be enrolling early.

We have talked in the past about Meyer's opinion on redshirting players moving forward, and this will almost certainly apply to Dunn in 2012.

While Dunn will get some carries this season just based on talent, if there is something that he can do that the other tailbacks cannot, then he puts himself in a much better position to see the ball this coming season.

Stan Drayton will need to inventory all of his tailbacks' skills, then put them in the best position to help this offense reach its potential. If that means a freshman is carrying the ball on third and one in the fourth quarter of a close game, this staff won't seem to mind.

As long as he actually picks up those third downs, then nobody else should mind either.

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