Final Post-Spring Overview — Running Backs
By Tony Gerdeman
The running back situation at Ohio State has been an interesting one over the years. Jim Tressel always preferred to have one workhorse running back, which was fine when he had one, but disastrous when he didn't.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With Maurice Clarett having his breakout season as a freshman in 2002, Tressel didn't, or couldn't, sign a running back in the 2003 class. With Clarett's issues, the Buckeyes were a complete disaster in the running game in both 2003 and 2004.
Whether this desire to have one workhorse hindered recruiting, or Tressel and his staff simply missed on most of their running back recruits, rarely did the tailbacks go two deep under Tressel. The drop off from number one to number two was generally cavernous.
In 2010 and 2011, Tressel was finally able to build a healthy and talented stable of running backs like he never had before, and the bulk of those two stables are now veterans.
There are some very talented running backs on this roster, and now that they will be running almost exclusively out of the shotgun, we're going to see them in a much different light than we have in the past. It should be a very enlightening season for all involved.
Photo by Dan Harker
Jordan Hall has rushed for 814 yards in his career and caught 21 total passes. There is a slight chance that he betters both of those numbers this season alone.
Carlos Hyde is the leading returning rusher among the running backs from last year, finishing the season with 566 yards rushing while averaging a very respectable 5.3 yards per carry. However, he only carried the ball 13 times over the Buckeyes' final four games. Ohio State was 2-5 when Hyde carried the ball five or fewer times last year, and 3-2 when he carried the ball at least ten times.
Rod Smith got 29 carries last year as a redshirt freshman, but none of them came in Big Ten play. True freshmen Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball will also be looking for carries, though Dunn has a leg up since he was enrolled for Spring practice.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Carlos Hyde seems more like a typical workhorse than Jordan Hall, and for that reason it wouldn't be a surprise to see Hyde get the bulk of the running back carries for the Buckeyes in 2012. He has been productive in the past when actually given an opportunity, though most may see him more as a pro-style tailback than one who carries the ball out of the spread.
Hall, for the last year or two, has been talked about as a jack of all trades, as dangerous in the slot as he is out of the backfield. We haven't seen that yet, though that's because we haven't seen the intent to make him a legitimate weapon. Too often under Tressel and Jim Bollman, weapons were used as decoys. Unfortunately, decoys become ineffective when everyone knows that they are only decoys.
Photo by Dan Harker
Rod Smith was given a clean slate under the new coaches and any unhappiness he was dealing with from last season would either be forgotten, or begin to manifest itself pretty quickly. Which way he would go was up in the air.
With three tailbacks ahead of him, there weren't too many expectations on Bri'onte Dunn to come in and start. The idea was that he would get a head start as a freshman, and that could only lead to a better chance at seeing the field this year. However, a sizable contribution from him this year wouldn't be a necessity.
After seeing practice, and watching a session where Jordan Hall worked just with the quarterbacks, it seemed clear that this version of Ohio State's coaching staff had some practical ideas for ways to get Hall the ball.
Having Urban Meyer name Hall as the guy who will fill this team's utility role (formerly known as "The Percy Harvin Role", which we should never use again), means that he has serious plans for Hall, and so our expectations for Hall's contributions should raise dramatically.
Wondering if Carlos Hyde was primarily an I-formation tailback, that question was answered pretty quickly in practice. He proved himself adept at carrying the ball in this offense, and should once again be this team's big play tailback.
Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn, as well as Warren Ball when he arrives, will all vie for the third spot in this rotation. That spot appears to be Smith's following Spring practice, but he will have to reclaim it in the Fall as well.
Even with a running quarterback, there will still be enough touches for all three of Braxton Miller, Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde. Granted, there won't be twenty carries per game to be routinely found, but it's easy to see Miller averaging 12-15 carries, and Hyde as well. Hall would have fewer carries, but still get around five catches per game out of the slot and in the flats.
In 2008 and 2009, Florida averaged 550 carries per season, which is right around what Ohio State is used to. That number might even go up this season with the Buckeyes running a hurry up offense. What this means is that if Miller, Hyde and Hall are combining for 35-40 carries per game, there might be 10-15 carries left over for everybody else. Some of those carries will go to the receivers.
It's going to be a bit of a chore to keep all of the Buckeye running backs happy this season, but then that's not Urban Meyer's job. However, if he is truly serious about finding room for all of his playmakers, then each of these five tailbacks will get an opportunity to show that they deserve to carry the ball.
In all honesty, the Buckeyes could get away with redshirting both Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball this season, but Meyer has already said that Dunn will play this year. If he is going to play, then it has to be in more than just a cursory role. As far as Ball is concerned, there is no reason for him to play this season, unless they just can't afford to keep him off the field.
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