Ball Not Conceeding Anything in Battle for Playing Time at Running Back
By Patrick Murphy
As talent accumulates, a player can be left behind. In the Ohio State running back group, no one wants to be that player.
“It's very competitive, and that's what pushes us each day to get better,” redshirt sophomore Warren Ball said of the running back room.
“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.”
It has been a long time since OSU – a school known for producing gifted ball carriers – has had a stable of backs this deep. Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott and senior Rod Smith got most of the first team reps during spring practice, but freshman Curtis Samuel snuck his way up the depth chart by the conclusion.
Warren Ball doesn’t plan on being left behind.
Warren Ball carries the football in the spring game.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I definitely feel that I have a chip on my shoulder,” Ball said this spring.
“Being injured my first year coming down here and having to redshirt. Then not playing maybe as much as I wanted to, but being able to learn the offense and see Carlos grow and continue to learn the offense. I have a chip on my shoulder and something to prove, and I want to work to show Buckeye Nation what I can do.”
Ball enters his third year at Ohio State with just 13 career carries for 76 yards after being forced to redshirt his true freshman year with a foot injury, but the back had a productive spring. He showed his ability in the Scarlet and Gray Game, leading all rushers with eight carries for 55 yards and one touchdown.
A productive spring is a step in the right direction, but other backs also did well this spring. Elliott and Smith demonstrated why they were getting the first team reps. Samuel showed the playmaking ability he was recruited for, while also proving he could take the up-the-middle carries a back needs. Fellow redshirt sophomore Bri’onte Dunn provided the north-south running that made Carlos Hyde so dangerous.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton stated that spring was too early to make a decision on the depth chart, although he did make it clear that production will earn playing time.
“I’m always going to operate under the notion of, I need at least three [running backs] and there’s five of them,” he told reporters.
“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 6’0”, 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.”
So how do you stand out in such a talented group of players? Ball believes you have to work hard and improve.
“It's just going out each day with the mindset of getting better and focusing on you,” he said. “You can't worry about ‘what are the coaches thinking?’ You just have to lock in and do your part. From there you'll get recognized and get playing time on the field, which is what we're all fighting for.”
And what will get you recognized?
“You've got to be able to make big plays,” Ball said. “Making big plays definitely helps you stand out, and that's what we're all trying to do.”
This time of year there is usually talk of competition for places, but it is often just a way to keep players motivated. For the Ohio State running backs there’s a real battle for roles and Ball hopes he stays in the thick of things.
Hyde's departure means there is a starting spot available and Ball will be fighting to earn that place.
“Growing up as a young kid, you always dream for that starting role, so when that opportunity is there, you want to do everything that you can to seize it,” he said. “Just going in day in and day out, doing everything that you can to take advantage of that opportunity.”