Meyer Ready to Take Hard Look at Running Backs
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer may already have the most talented group of running backs he has ever worked with in his tenure as a head football coach.
The operative word being may.
With the exit of senior captain Daniel “Boom” Herron this offseason, a number of Ohio State’s backup tailbacks will get a chance to show Meyer they can carry the load in his new spread attack.
The Buckeyes are just over a week away from the start of their first spring practice under Meyer, and the new boss is ready to take a hard look at the running backs he will have to work with in the fall.
“Again, I don’t know who is going to carry the ball,” he said while previewing the start of spring football.
Photo by Dan Harker
“Jordan Hall has had a decent career; I would not say good. I watch him compete and he should be better (statistically).”
On paper, Hall looks like the perfect back to fit Meyer’s new speed-oriented offense in Columbus. The 5-9 tailback can catch the ball out of the backfield, but he also shown himself to be an impressive playmaker with the ball in his hands.
Hall’s 42-yard kick return set up Braxton Miller’s game-winning touchdown pass against Wisconsin this past October, but Hall was never quite as impressive as he first showed in the loss at Miami (Fla.) early in the year.
Meyer is hoping he can squeeze more production out of the Jeannette native has he heads into his final season at Ohio State.
“He’s a competitor,” Meyer said.
“I like Jordan. He’s had a very good offseason … probably borderline great.”
One of the major knocks on Meyer is that he has never produced a running back that topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark, although Brandon Warfield came pretty close for Utah in 2003.
The last couple years at Florida, Meyer was using “Scat backs” like Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, but he has no plans to abandon the power running game that has been a staple of Ohio State’s offense since the days of Woody Hayes.
“No. 1, we will not be a finesse running attack,” said Ohio State’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who came over from Notre Dame in the offseason.
“Some people equate the spread with finesse running, and that will not be us at all. We will be a physical, aggressive, attacking offensive line and running game.”
Photo by Dan Harker
That is good news for backs like Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith, who would seem to fit better in a more power-oriented run game, although Hyde certainly showed a good burst in his first real action with the Buckeyes last season.
“Rod Smith and Carlos have come light-years,” Meyer said.
“Talk about January to what I saw in the last week and a half — they’re different people. We’ll see if that carries over into the classroom when we get their grades.”
Smith was a guy who some thought might be looking to leave the OSU program in the off-season after missing the flight to Jacksonville with his teammates for the Gator Bowl.
He played in four games early last year, carrying the ball 18 times for 74 yards and at touchdown in the opener. But he had ball security issues and did not see a carry the rest of the year after Hall and Herron returned from suspension.
Smith has supposedly bought in to Meyer and Mickey Marotti’s off-season workout program, as has freshman Bri’onte Dunn.
“I wasn’t a Bri’onte fan, and then something interesting happened. I went and visited his family and they are incredible people,” Meyer said.
“I mean, off-the-charts. One of the best home visits I’ve ever been in. And we left there thinking ‘He’s a product of a great family’ and we’re excited to have him. He really did a nice job (during winter conditioning).”
At 6-1 and between 215 and 220 pounds, Dunn is another physical back who could be in the mix for some carries this spring. He still has to learn the offense, but the Buckeyes are happy to have him, especially after the Canton GlenOak product waivered on his commitment to Ohio State before Meyer was hired last November.
“During the recruiting process, we had to deal with a couple of things,” Meyer said of Dunn.
“He said, ‘Well, I’m going to go visit here and I’m going to go visit there. What about this? What about that? How am I going to get the ball?’”
That wasn’t music to Meyer’s ears, especially when the No. 1 thing he was looking for in the class of 2012 was a competitive spirit. He and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell got on the phone with Dunn before he had a chance to visit Ann Arbor in December.
“(We) had a hard conversation on speaker phone with him one time,” Meyer said.
“We told him, ‘You are not going to visit there, and if you do, you better like it because that’s where you’re going to go.’”
A downhill rusher, who racked up 5,479 yards on the ground during his high school career, Dunn did cancel his visit to Michigan and affirmed his commitment to Ohio State. In fact, he enrolled early and started classes back in January so that he would be ready to compete for the starting tailback job in the spring.
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