No Shortage of Options or Confidence in Replacing Carlos Hyde
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — At this time a year ago, the Ohio State running back situation still had plenty of questions. Even though Carlos Hyde was coming off of a 2012 season where he rushed for 970 yards, the coaches still wanted to see more from him.
Fortunately for those coaches, that was exactly what happened in 2013. Following a season where he rushed for 1,521 yards, it would be dishonest to say that he didn't far exceed expectations.
Being at Ohio State, expectations are always going to be high, so to exceed them is a pretty special thing. Over the Buckeyes' final nine games, Hyde was the very definition of special, rushing for 166 yards per game. He was as punishing as he was dominating, and as unforgiving to a defense as a slow-footed safety.
And now he is gone.
How does Ohio State go about replacing him? The same way they went about finding him, through the competition of a talented group of running backs. Hyde's production fueled the Ohio State offense to heights it had never reached before, and that level of production will need to return somehow.
"It has to be replaced," running backs coach Stan Drayton said of Hyde's production.
"This is the Ohio State University and it has to be the next man up. I’m sure if you ask Carlos Hyde, he’ll say the same thing, it’s the next man up. So someone has to step up and fill the shoes of Carlos Hyde. If it takes more than one guy to do that, I promise you it’s gonna get done."
As Drayton said, this is Ohio State, and replacing running backs at OSU is just part of the routine. Prior to dominating the Big Ten, Hyde was once the "next man up", just as every other great running back was before him.
Who will be the next man up for the Buckeyes this season? That question is still up in the air, but everybody involved in the process is confident that production won't be an issue.
"We know we’ve got big shoes to fill," said fifth-year senior Rod Smith.
Senior RB Rod Smith
Photo by Jim Davidson
"You come out here, you watch us play, you can see our backfield as a whole, what it’s going to be this season, this spring. We're gonna make a lot noise, you’re gonna hear us. We’re not gonna be unheard."
Smith, who has split reps on the first team with sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, has shown some flashes over his career, but still only has 83 carries to his credit. For Elliott, who carried the ball 30 times a season ago as a freshman, he is as confident about replacing Hyde as Smith is.
"That’s definitely a big hole to fill, but we have a lot of capable backs to step in and replace what he did last year," he said.
"Don’t worry. We have a stable full of backs that are very capable."
To his credit, Drayton certainly doesn't sound worried either. His job is to fill the hole left by Hyde by any means necessary. Whether that's one unstoppable human hammer like a year ago, or two or three complementary runners who do everything that is asked of them. Drayton doesn't care how it gets done, only that it does in fact get done.
"I’m always going to operate under the notion of I need at least three and there’s five of them," he explained.
Sophomore RB Ezekiel Elliott
Photo by Jim Davidson
With those five options, however, it will always come down to which tailback is the most productive.
"I prefer a guy that’s going to be productive, period. I don’t care how it gets done. It’s not a matter of me getting the prototypical 6’, 230 pound, it’s not that. If it’s 5’9”, and 200 pounds, and if you’re going to do what I’m asking you to do at the level I’m asking you to do it, then we’re going to live with that."
Drayton won't just be looking towards Smith and Elliott, because he also has a pair of talented redshirt sophomores in Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball. True freshman Curtis Samuel will also get a look, all in the quest to replace Carlos Hyde's production.
What are the players doing to make sure that they are part of this quest?
"It's obviously huge shoes to fill with Carlos Hyde, being the great running back that he was," Ball said.
"But just the relentless effort guys are going to give. Day in, day out consistent effort and being able to contribute to this offense. Just someone that can fill that role that Carlos left behind."
In replacing Hyde, it will be of great benefit that this group of running backs got to see him play first hand.
"Carlos was like a big brother to me," Dunn said.
"He taught me a lot. He taught everybody a lot. By his example last year, it just taught us a lot."
This group of running backs saw in Hyde what it took to be the starting running back for the Buckeyes, and now they are putting that knowledge to good use in their own bid to fill some very big shoes.
"Everybody wants to play for the Ohio State University," Dunn said.
"So we’re going to go as hard as we can. Our mindset is to be the best back in the country."
If they can realize that mindset and manufacture the production that goes along with it, then you can consider Carlos Hyde's shoes filled quite well.
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