OSU Needs Ball and Dunn to Produce in Their 'Spare Time'
By Patrick Murphy
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are many things that must be working in order for a vehicle to run properly. The engine must turn over, there must be gas in the tank, the tires must be inflated… the list goes on and on. If something goes wrong, there could be trouble.
The same could be said about the running game on a football team. The blocking must be good, handoffs must be timed correctly, the running back must know his lanes and gaps… so on and so forth.
The running back is the tires that support the entire car. If something happens to a tire, you need to replace it in order to keep driving. The common saying from the coaching staff has been that you always need “a pair and a spare,” so you can keep rolling in case something happens to the starter.
The nature of the position in the modern game requires multiple backs to carry the ball. There are fewer every-down backs, the demands are too much for one player. This means the talent at the position must be deep to be successful.
“I feel really good about [our guys],” said running backs coach Stan Drayton at the conclusion of Spring Practice.
“I feel like we have sufficient depth. I feel like we have depth that can bring productivity to our offense, which is something that is an unbelievable luxury to have right now in year two of this offense.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Senior Carlos Hyde is the starter of the group with redshirt sophomore Rod Smith as his primary backup. After that it has been sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball competing for the third slot, or the spare.
“One day it's Warren and one day it's Bri'onte,” Drayton said of the battle between the two on the depth chart.
“I do believe that Carlos and Rod have separated themselves from those two. Carlos is the clear starter, and I know you haven't heard me say those things before, but Carlos is clearly the starter. I think Rod has separated himself from those guys [Ball and Dunn] right now.”
It is important for the Buckeyes that the two young players continue to improve, especially considering Ohio State’s plans to use the diamond formation, a three back set.
“I think these kids need to continue to develop rather quickly,” he said of Dunn and Ball.
“They've got to get on the bus somehow. They've got to prove their value to this football team, and that's what spring is for.”
While there is still work to do, there have been flashes of their ability since they arrived on campus. Dunn displayed some of his ability in limited time last season, carrying the ball 25 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
“Bri'onte just brings that low pad level, move the ball, four yards every time type of demeanor,” Drayton said.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ball redshirted his first year, but excited the coaches with some things in practice.
“Warren Ball has shown a capability to be an explosive football player at times. I love the way he attacks defenders. I love the capability of hitting a home run from time to time.”
While the coach’s description makes it sound like the Buckeyes may have a thunder and lightning combination on his hands, this is not what he wants from his players.
“I don't want them to be situational backs though,” he said.
“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.”
While Drayton wants more from his young backs, this is not to say they are not improving. It was not that long ago that Hyde was receiving criticism from coaches and there were questions to what he would amount to at Ohio State. Hyde finished last season with 970 yards and 16 touchdowns, proving what can be done if the work is put in.
What do they need to improve on in order to become the “spare?” Drayton believes there are a few things that they both must get better at by fall camp.
“Knowledge of the game needs to improve immensely, they still play the game slow,” he told reporters.
“They know it's an open slate come fall, and if we've still got some of the same issues in the fall, then we have a disaster on our hands.”
Both Dunn and Ball are still young players with much of their careers ahead of them at Ohio State, but in big-time football the kids are expected to grow up quickly. The Buckeyes do not bring players in to sit on the bench or redshirt; the coaches expect them to learn fast and contribute.
While these two have the potential to be the tires that one day drive this car, right now they need to focus on taking over as the spare. Come fall, when more is on the line, OSU needs all their parts working as one. This includes that old spare that is always inevitably needed.