OSU Spring Forecast: Running Back
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes had an incredibly deep stable of running backs last year, and without their lead horse Carlos Hyde in 2014, things are going to look quite a bit different.
Regardless of the tailbacks involved, however, the Buckeyes will remain a power running team. There may be a few more bells and whistles this year because of the inability to rely on one sole provider, but the basic tenets will remain.
Despite the lack of production returning, there are a number of talented options for Tom Herman and Urban Meyer to turn to, and each of them will be pushed to produce, or get passed by entirely.
Who's Coming Back?
Ohio State loses Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall, and they were the two leading rushers at the running back position for the Buckeyes. That's the bad news. The good news is that there will be five scholarship running backs competing for reps this spring.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott (6-0 218) is the team's leading returning rusher whose name isn't Braxton Miller. He only carried the ball 30 times last season, but averaged 8.7 yards per carry on those attempts.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Redshirt senior Rod Smith (6-3 232) ran the ball just 22 times last season, but is the most experienced returning tailback on the team. He has always shown the potential to be a workhorse, but has never put it all together.
Redshirt sophomores Warren Ball (6-1 222) and Bri'onte Dunn (6-0 220) return, and both will be looking at the best opportunities of their career to get into the running back rotation. Freshman Curtis Samuel (5-11 185) has enrolled early and will also be in the mix.
Expectations Heading Into Spring
Urban Meyer has already intimated that Ezekiel Elliott is the expected starter, or at least that he didn't see it being all that easy to beat him out. If he doesn't start the spring with the first-team reps, it would be quite a surprise.
The competition for the number two spot will likely last all spring long, and may never actually be settled. Rod Smith had a solid spring last year, but that didn't parlay into much playing time during the season. This is his last chance. He needs a great spring in order to stay involved.
Warren Ball found himself ahead of Bri'onte Dunn last year, but the year before it was Dunn ahead of Ball. To predict where this one will end up would be a guess at this point. Curtis Samuel should get a few snaps with the second team just to see if he can fit in. They want him to play this season, so they'll give him some opportunities to impress.
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario would have running backs coach Stan Drayton leaving the practice field every day smiling and frustrated. Smiling at the depth and talent, and frustrated at how he can reward each of his tailbacks with the touches that they deserve.
Last season Carlos Hyde was too valuable and effective to remove from the equation. While they would love to have that type of talent to rely upon once again, the Ohio State coaches wouldn't mind having a stable of running backs where the drop off from one to two to three wasn't a drastic dip.
There are roughly 300 carries up for grabs for the running backs, and the competition for those carries will start next month. If competition breeds excellence, then the Buckeyes should be just fine as spring practice concludes.
One to Watch For
Any of the five scholarship running backs could appear here, and for several good reasons. However, let's go ahead and spotlight Bri'onte Dunn, the former five-star signee out of Canton GlenOak.
Dunn got some action in 2012 as a freshman, including a 13-carry, 73-yard performance in a 52-22 win over Illinois. He redshirted last year because Urban Meyer didn't want to waste a year of eligibility on middling carries. It will now be up to Dunn to show that Meyer's decision last year was both the correct one, and a mistake.
If he can perform to his potential, then he will show that Meyer was smart to not burn a year of eligibility, but he could also show that he never should have been redshirted in the first place.
Trending Up or Down
It would be impossible for this position to lose Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall and be considered on an upward swing. The running back position is absolutely a question mark, but not every question is difficult to answer.
While the position overall is trending down, that's only because of the heights that Hyde took it in 2013. The potential is here for mass productivity, so even though it may be trending the wrong way, there will still be plenty of ceiling for things to trend back up.
Ezekiel Elliott has the look of an incredibly exciting player, and one who will be able to score from anywhere. He will be working behind a new offensive line in the spring, so the early returns may not be as promising as some would hope.
Behind him are players who can break tackles and move piles. As much as Ohio State loves to run between the tackles, you can bet there will be a role for at least one other tailback given the skill sets that they offer.
This season the running backs will be complemented by Dontre Wilson at the H-back position, which will make the running game more dangerous than it would be without him. With the pull that Wilson has as a decoy, it will only take a split second for a defender to lose sight of the ball, which might be all a tailback like Elliott would need to hit the home runs that are expected of him.
This is a pretty exciting group of running backs waiting to show what they can do. Just because the experience isn't there doesn't mean the talent is missing as well.
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