Despite Losing Hyde, Drayton Comfortable With His Returning Tailbacks
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The 2013 season featured one of the more dominating performances by an Ohio State running back in school history. The season that Carlos Hyde had has been talked about repeatedly, and for very good reason.
Photo by Dan Harker
His 7.3 yards per carry was a school record, and his 1,521 yards rushing was good for seventh all-time in school history. And he did all of this despite missing the first three games of the season.
Hyde is at the top of the running back lists on many NFL Draft boards, and Ohio State's depth chart is now missing one of its best workhorses ever.
Replacing Hyde is going to be far from easy, but the Buckeyes do return a solid group of experienced players who are laced with explosive potential.
"We've got four guys that are ready to compete for that starting job," running backs coach Stan Drayton said on signing day.
"They've got big shoes to fill. And if it takes more than one of them to fill that type of, to get that type of productivity we got from Carlos, then we'll do it."
At the top of this list is sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, whom Urban Meyer mentioned last week as being hard pressed to not land the starting job. It seems as though Meyer has never uttered a single bad word about Elliott, and his expectations are quite high.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Drayton likes what he sees out of the second-year player from St. Louis as well.
"Ezekiel Elliott kind of walked through the door with that [speed] component," he said.
"Since he's been here he's already gained 20 pounds. So his role has shifted to being more of that pure tailback. [He] proved that he has the maturity. His body is definitely ready to play."
Elliott was able to showcase his abilities in a few games last season, but due to Hyde's dominance, no other tailback was able to make much of a mark.
The most veteran of the group, Rod Smith, was expected to have more of a role last season, but it never came to be. Meyer said on his radio show last week that Smith is "at his last call", which is similar to past declarations he has made about the redshirt senior.
"Rod Smith is a guy who is coming up in his fourth year," Drayton said. "It's time for him to show improvement."
Last spring, Smith and Hyde had separated themselves as the team's top two tailbacks. Hyde then obviously went on to separate himself from everybody, while Smith would go on to carry the ball just 22 times, which was just seventh-best on the team.
Even though third-year sophomores Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn redshirted in different seasons, they have been tied together since they signed with Ohio State in 2012.
A year ago Drayton said that he wanted to see Dunn and Ball begin to separate themselves from each other, but he's still mentioning them together today, and likely still hoping they continue to grow.
"We've got a group of guys that have played some ball last year," he said.
"We've got Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn. What I say to them in the meeting room would not be brand new."
What will be brand new, however, is the addition of freshman Curtis Samuel into the mix. Samuel, out of Brooklyn, New York, is a speedster that Drayton is excited to see in action.
"We've got a very dynamic player in Curtis Samuel," he said.
"He brings speed to our backfield that I don't believe we've had since I've been here, just that type of speed. You guys know we love to have that hybrid component, both the receiver position and the running back position. Jordan Hall kind of filled that role a little bit for us last year. And now we're, based upon Curtis Samuel's maturity how he picks up on things, we're hoping he can fill that void for us."
The number of options at running back has allowed the Buckeyes to move Dontre Wilson out of the backfield, with plans of getting him more involved in the passing game.
For Drayton, even though he doesn't return a ton of proven production, he likes what he has in his running backs room every day when he gets to the office, but he knows he and his players still have work to do.
"I'm really excited about what we have coming back," he said.
"And part of the reason why we didn't go out and get that pure back this year, we feel comfortable with what we have in our program right now. But they have to develop. They're not there yet. But hopefully by fall they will be."
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