Spring Recap: Running Backs

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Football
2014 Spring Positional Recap: Running Back
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes entered spring football looking to find enough talent in the backfield to make the loss of Carlos Hyde and his 1,521 yards rushing as easy to overcome as possible.

Running backs coach Stan Drayton doesn't much care who or where that production comes from, just so long as it comes. The job this spring was to put his backs through their paces and evaluate the candidates on hand.

Early on, Drayton was happy with the potential.

Stan Drayton works with Warren Ball
Photo by Jm Davidson
Stan Drayton

"I’m extremely confident that we’re going to get to where we need to be, I’m extremely confident," he said earlier this month.

"They have a culture that’s being created in that room right now that they’re trying to be the hardest working unit on the football field and I really see them trying to do that."

The starting job is wide open, but there is indeed a pecking order. That order shifted throughout the spring, however, and will likely continue to shift until around October.

Returning Starter: None

Others Returning: Ezekiel Elliott (6-0 225, So.), Rod Smith (6-3 231, rSr.), Bri'onte Dunn (6-1 216, rSo.), Warren Ball (6-1 224, rSo.)

The four returning tailbacks from a year ago combined for 65 total carries, with only 24 of those carries coming in Big Ten play. Ezekiel Elliott was the only player to carry the ball in the Buckeyes last five games, and that was a lone carry for seven yards against Indiana.

Elliott started this spring behind Rod Smith, but ended the spring as the #1 tailback, which was the expected result for most. He not only displayed the speed that he is known for, but he also showed an ability to stay low and pick up good chunks of yardage straight up the middle of the field. If there is a lone workhorse on this team, it is most likely Elliott.

"I’ll tell you what’s not different, he’s still going as hard as he can possibly go," Drayton said of Elliott.

Ezekiel Ellliot
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ezeliel Elliot

"The one thing about Ezekiel is that he walked through the door with an incredible work ethic and that has sustained. Now it’s a matter of him taking his game to the next level, anticipating a little bit quicker, understanding defenses a little bit more. He’s still got a ways to go in his development but he’s definitely on track."

Smith started the spring strongly, but ended it on the sidelines due to academic issues. This is his final season of playing college football and things were initially going his way. Will he be able to stop the backward momentum and regain the traction that he showed in March?

"I definitely feel like I've put in my time," Smith said prior to his academic woes. "I'm working, I've been all winter. I've been working hard, trying to compete. I feel like I'm in top-notch shape, the best shape I've ever been. I feel like this could be a good year for me."

In Smith's absence, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball scooped up opportunities and shined when given the chance. Dunn showed the ability to get tough yards up the middle, while Ball could be seen beating linebackers to the edge and turning the ball upfield.

"He’s learned the offense and he’s starting to play fast and we’re starting to see the things that Bri’onte already had within himself, but it’s just now coming through as execution," Drayton said.

"So it’s just a matter with him of becoming a student of the game, learning the game, and now he’s playing fast. It’s fun to watch."

Currently, Ball is behind Dunn on the depth chart, but the redshirt sophomore from Columbus had a very productive spring. In fact, Ball led all rushers in the spring game with eight carries for 55 yards and a touchdown.

"It's very competitive, and that's what  pushes us each day to get better," Ball said.

"We're always going to be trying to be the starter or get playing time, but we're also making each other better at the same time. We're helping each other out."

Newcomers: Curtis Samuel (5-11 190, Fr.)

One of the biggest surprises of the spring, and most pleasant for the Buckeyes, was the emergence of true freshman Curtis Samuel. When Urban Meyer signed the speedster out of Brooklyn, he did it with the idea that Samuel may be more of a hybrid player than a full-fledged running back.

After seeing Samuel early on in spring, it didn't take long for Meyer to realize that Samuel had the potential to help the Buckeyes at tailback immediately. Over the course of 15 spring practices, Samuel moved his way up the depth chart, ultimately finding himself running with the twos as much as any other tailback.

"The guy that really, really excites me is No. 4, Curtis Samuel," Meyer said after the spring game. "We've just got to figure out if he has the size and strength to take the pounding the running backs take."

It can be argued that Samuel is the #2 running back on the depth chart right now, though Smith and Dunn certainly have a claim to it as well. When it comes to potential, however, Meyer is enamored with what the freshman could provide.

Depth Chart
Ezekiel Elliott (6-0 225, So.)
Curtis Samuel (5-11 190, Fr.) OR
Rod Smith (6-3 231, rSr.) OR
Bri'onte Dunn (6-0 216, rSo.)
Warren Ball (6-1 224, rSo.)

Spring Links

Dunn Finally Ready to Get Started for the Buckeyes

Five for Friday: Freshmen Who Will Be in the OSU Two-Deep

Spring's Unanswered Questions for the Buckeye Offense

The-Ozone Mailbag: Spring Hope Springs Eternal Questions

Curtis Samuel Progressing, Wants to Be Another Playmaker for the Offense

Spring Practice Insider: Big Plays Spark the Offense

Last Chance for Rod Smith to Salvage His Career

Curtis Samuel Turning Heads, Readers Beware

Improved Elliott Fighting for Starting Spot

Five for Friday: Best Under-the-Radar Position Battles

No Shortage of Options or Confidence in Replacing Carlos Hyde

OSU Spring Practice Insider: Running Backs Make Some Noise

OSU Spring Forecast: Running Back


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