Spring Position Battles to Watch: Tailback
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — If Urban Meyer holds true to his word, this spring is going to be one of the most competitive in Ohio State history—certainly in recent history.
The Buckeyes actually don’t have a lot of holes to fill from the 6-7 season a year ago, but they must replace a handful of key players on offense if they are going to score points the way Meyer would like.
This week, we will take a look at some of the most important position battles to keep an eye on this spring, starting with the running back position.
Shoes to Fill: Boom Herron
Photo by Jim Davidson
Herron was on his way to becoming of the more productive backs in Ohio State history before his six-game suspension. He will always be remembered for his monster junior season with the Buckeyes, but Herron was rather effective after returning from his hiatus in the middle of last season.
He was an explosive runner with good burst and excellent change-of-direction. Herron lacked top-end speed—which explains his poor 40 times at the NFL Combine—but he still broke off a number of big runs in his career because of his ability to move in space.
The Warren Harding product was never a great short-yardage back, but he had a nose for the end zone and really knew how to find a hole by the time he finished his career with the Buckeyes.
Herron finished his career at Ohio State with over 2,800 yards on the ground and 32 touchdowns. He ran for nearly 700 yards last season, despite missing the first six games of the year, and averaged over 4.8 yards per carry for his entire college career.
Ohio State will miss his passion, his energy, his confidence, and his patience as a runner.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Favorite: Jordan Hall (5-9, 198, Sr.)
Meyer and his staff have to a make a decision on what direction they are going to go with Jordan Hall. Is he a tailback? Is he a slot receiver? Can he be their dynamic “do-everything” guy who lines up in the slot and in the backfield? That seems to be the ideal role for Hall, but like Meyer said, it has always seemed like he should put up better statistics than he has in his first three years at Ohio State.
The Challengers: Carlos Hyde (6-0, 235, Jr.) & Rod Smith (6-3, 230, rSo.)
Photo by Dan Harker
The Buckeyes have a number of options in the backfield if they decide to use Hall in a more versatile role this spring, and it starts with Carlos Hyde. Both Hyde and Rod Smith are bigger backs who bring a more physical style to the OSU running game, but Hyde proved last season he can be much more than just a bruiser.
Ideally, this new staff will realize Hyde’s strengths do not involve him moving laterally on toss or sweep plays, but Hyde has plenty of burst when he gets moving north and south. It is not inconceivable to believe that Hyde could emerge as the top back in the rotation this spring, although it will also be interesting to see where Rod Smith is at entering his third year in the program.
Smith is a taller, less-compact back than Hyde. He has a little more wiggle in his game, but hasn’t shown the breakaway ability we saw from Hyde at times last year. He also had an issue with holding on to the football early in the year.
The Darkhorse: Bri’onte Dunn (6-1, 214, Fr.)
It seems a bit far-fetched to think Dunn could waltz on to the scene this spring and leapfrog the three veterans ahead of him, but stranger things have happened. Remember, Dunn is the only guy on this list who was actually signed by Meyer (though he originally committed to Jim Tressel and Luke Fickell).
Meyer doesn’t have the same allegiance to guys like Hyde and Smith that the previous staff would have, which means he gets the chance to step back and watch the competition unfold for himself.
It’s too early to start talking about Dunn as a potential starter for 2012 (we haven't even seen him carry the ball yet, and neither have the coaches), but keep an eye on No. 25 in the backfield this spring.
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