OSU Spring Forecast: H-Back
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Other than quarterback, perhaps no position on the Ohio State football team has been as meticulously scrutinized as the H-Back position since Urban Meyer's arrival in Columbus.
The position itself has been called several things, from the "Percy Harvin Role", to the "pivot", the "hybrid", and now the simple and acceptable "H-Back". It hasn't just been the name that has changed, however, as there has been nearly a half-dozen Buckeyes who have lined up at the position in the past two seasons as Meyer looks for his perfect fit.
Ironically, maybe this position will begin to garner less attention once it actually becomes as productive as Meyer would like. Once it becomes routine, perhaps it will be treated as such. Until that time, however, this will always be a curious position to observe.
Who's Coming Back?
Sophomore Dontre Wilson (5-10 180) is back after enjoying a part-time role at H-Back last season. His role will grow immensely in 2014, however. In 2013, he carried the ball 31 times for 250 yards (8.1 ypc) and one touchdown. He also caught 22 passes for 210 yards (9.5 ypc) and two touchdowns. Those are solid numbers for a true freshman learning a new position, and they should dramatically improve as a sophomore.
Photo by Dan Harker
Jordan Hall , Philly Brown and Chris Fields are all gone, and each of them played the position at one time or another in the past. The coaches want their H-Backs to come from both the receiver and running back position, which is why a player like redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall (5-11 199) could factor in here.
A freshman may emerge as well, as Curtis Samuel (5-11 185) is in for the spring and is currently working at running back. He fits the hybrid role that Urban Meyer is looking for.
While not on campus until this summer, freshmen Parris Campbell and Noah Brown could also find themselves involved in this position.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
With Dontre Wilson returning, Urban Meyer might finally have the type of H-Back that can be used in the number of different ways that he has foreseen. Given the question marks behind Wilson, he could be a very busy player in 2014.
Receivers coach Zach Smith has already talked about his excitement to see Jalin Marshall pick up where he left off at the end of last season. Smith, however, hasn't locked Marshall in as an H-Back yet, so he may not even end up there until he's more comfortable as a receiver.
With Curtis Samuel on campus, he may also get a look at a few reps. He is listed on the official roster as a RB/WR, which is what the H-Back is, but he'll start out at tailback. It might be too soon to ask him to do more than that right away, however.
Best Case Scenario
There isn't a lot of depth at the position this spring, which means that Dontre Wilson is going to get an awful lot of work. Fortunately, that's probably the best thing for all involved. The more reps he gets, the more comfortable he becomes. Perhaps more importantly, the more the offense becomes comfortable with his skill set.
Not really knowing what the depth chart will look like behind him, and only going off of assumptions, if Jalin Marshall and/or Curtis Samuel can provide some snaps while not also providing much of a drop off, then you would have to think Urban Meyer and Tom Herman would be thrilled.
One to Watch For
The one to watch here is the one that everybody will be watching, and that's Dontre Wilson. After flashes as a freshman, his time is now. He is going to be heavily involved in the offensive game plans this season, and that preparation starts this spring.
Wilson is bigger and stronger than he was last season, and Meyer has talked in the past about wanting him to be used more in the power running game. The Buckeyes don't need him to carry the ball 20 times, but if they can get 10-12 touches out of him on offense, his value will be unquestioned.
Trending Up or Down
Even losing the players that have played this position, the H-Back spot is still trending up for the Buckeyes. The position has yet to look the way that Meyer wants it, but they are closer than ever to realizing his vision.
While the depth chart is a bit of a mystery right now, by the time the fall rolls around, the number of options will double or triple. Players will be available, they'll just have to prove that they can make the plays that the position requires.
A year ago following spring football, running backs coach Stan Drayton said that the offense and the running game would be much closer to reaching their potential due to there being more options at H-Back. While, the H-Back shouldn't get all of the credit, or even a large portion, the offense was certainly more effective on the ground than it was a season earlier.
That progression should continue even more this season. We saw the effectiveness of Dontre Wilson as a decoy on several long touchdowns last season. This season he should be on the field for most of the snaps, which means a defense is going to have to be just as worried about him this year as they were last year, and we know what happened last year when a defense would keep their eyes on him a second or two too long.
Wilson was the talk of fall camp last season, and because he didn't score touchdowns on every snap or shoot fireballs from his arse, some fans were disappointed with his production. This means that when you hear raves about him this spring, many fans will be dismissive of the reports. Instead, they will choose to simply wait and see it for themselves. Fortunately for you, that really shouldn't be much of a problem.
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