Spring Recap - The Running Backs
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — This spring the Buckeye running backs returned 1,536 of the 1,569 yards that they accumulated on the ground last season. The lone man missing was Zach Boren, and the offense functioned without him for the final six games last year.
Many people had the misconception that Urban Meyer's preference is for smaller, speedier tailbacks. He showed last season that he is quite amiable to a 230-pound running back, though he will always be looking for a complementary home run hitter.
Things appear to be so good for the Buckeyes that last year's second-leading rusher among the running backs (Jordan Hall), was moved to H-back. Hall will still be involved in the running game, but for the most part this is going to be Carlos Hyde's show.
The other three running backs showed their wares very well this spring, displaying both the ability to move a pile, as well as avoid one if necessary. There aren't enough carries to keep everyone happy, but the fact that the coaches have so many possibilities will force them to find opportune spots for each of them.
One of the reasons that Braxton Miller carried the ball so many times last season is because there weren't many playmakers to help him out. That will change this year. It will now be up to Tom Herman and Urban Meyer – and Miller – to get everyone else involved.
Miller is still the most dynamic runner on the team, but he's also the least expendable. It will be key to find a happy medium between using your best weapon, and not losing it for good. Having a half-dozen very talented ball carriers is one way to avoid over-using your quarterback, provided he hands the ball off.
Returning Starter: Carlos Hyde (Sr.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
Carlos Hyde carried the Buckeyes through the Big Ten schedule last season, and came into spring with that same edge. He didn't get much work this spring, which should tell you all that you need to know.
"He didn't do a whole bunch of scrimmaging this spring because he's battle tested," Stan Drayton said after the spring game. "However, he really became a phenomenal leader for people like Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball, who are still trying to figure it out a little bit. And not only that, but for his development as a leader of this football team, it was critical that he establish himself with a young group of guys. I thought he did a phenomenal job, he was like a coach out there."
Last season, Hyde led the team on the field. This spring he did the same off the field. As a senior, the Buckeyes will get the very best of what Hyde has to offer.
Others Returning: Rod Smith (Jr.), Bri'onte Dunn (So.), Warren Ball (rFr.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
According to Stan Drayton, Rod Smith separated himself from Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball this spring. Yes, he still had some ball security issues, but they were overshadowed by everything else he brings to the table. Unfortunately, a concussion ended Smith's spring early.
"He was having a really good spring, he really was," Drayton said of Smith. "He has improved his awareness. He's year two in this system now, so he's playing faster because of the knowledge of the system. He was a physical presence out there, and often enough the tempo setter of practice."
Dunn and Ball switched places on the depth chart on a near-daily basis, and not necessarily because of something that the other wasn't doing. They are both big backs, but they aren't just battering rams. Ball has tremendous feet, and Drayton said that he was possibly the team's best open-field runner. Dunn is a straight-line back who falls forward every time and doesn't waste a bunch of motion doing it.
Photo by Jim Davidson
At times this spring they both looked like the second-best back on the team. They both showed their ability to catch the football in the spring game as well. Dunn showed his talent for getting the ball north and south, and getting every yard that is out there to get. Meanwhile, Ball showed his skill at making defenders miss throughout the spring. Drayton wants them to continue showing that they can be complete tailbacks.
"Warren Ball has shown a capability to be an explosive football player at times," he said. "I love the way he attacks defenders. I love the capability of hitting a home run from time to time. Bri'onte just brings that low pad level, move the ball, four yards every time type of demeanor. I don't want them to be situational backs though. I want them to present themselves as a guy that can be in there on any given situation, and I think that may be what separates them in the future."
Newcomers: Ezekiel Elliott (Fr.), Dontre Wilson (Fr.)
Neither Ezekiel Elliott or Dontre Wilson were in for the spring, but both bring the kind of versatility that none of the other running backs on the roster possess.
Both Elliott and Wilson can split out wide and be more than decoys, and given the speed and explosion of both players, they are expected to be provided with some early chances. How they produce in those moments could dictate how many more they have coming their way. For good reason, Drayton is excited about the possibilities.
"Ezekiel Elliott kind of brings a little bit of versatility to the table," he said. "Dontre, you've got two coaches fighting for him right now. He does have a significant amount of running back skill."
Drayton sums up the running back situation in a way that Urban Meyer would certainly approve of, citing competition as the driving force behind everything that they do.
"I'm trying to create the best competitive environment in one single group in the country, and I think we're getting close to that, I really do. These guys need to come in here and compete. Nothing is going to be given to them."
Carlos Hyde (6-0 242, Sr.)
Rod Smith (6-3 238, Jr.)
Bri'onte Dunn (6-0 222, So.)
Warren Ball (6-1 222, rFr.)
Ezekiel Elliott (6-0 210, Fr.)
Dontre Wilson (5-10 174, Fr.)
Hyde Seeking Big Plays in 2013, Drayton Expecting It
Understanding Urban: The Diamond Formation
Spring Practice Insider: Offense Breaks Out New Formation
Spring Practice Insider: Short-Yardage Drills Set the Tone
Five Players to Watch This Spring: Offense
Spring Position Battles to Watch: Running Back
Spring Forecast: Running Back
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