H-Back Versatility

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Last updated: 04/18/2014 3:00 AM
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Buckeyes Counting on More Versatility From the H-Back Position
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is a tradition that is nearly as old as time itself – writing about the Ohio State offense under Urban Meyer and how the hybrid H-back position will be used.

It has been written about relentlessly since Meyer took over in 2011, and continues to be a topic simply because of how far the Buckeye offense remains from Meyer's vision.

In his first season in Columbus there were several attempts made to find a suitable fit, running the gamut from Jordan Hall to Jake Stoneburner, but never quite finding a natural fit.

Last season, the position was generally manned by Philly Brown, and he performed well enough, leading the Buckeyes with 63 receptions for 771 yards and 10 touchdowns. He even averaged 10 yards per carry in his limited rushing attempts.

Despite everything that Brown was able to do for the Buckeyes, he wasn't as involved in the running game as Meyer and Tom Herman would like the position to be. The thought now is that with Dontre Wilson, a former running back, at the position, they will be able to incorporate the running game more than ever before.

Dontre Wilson
Photo by Jim Davidson
Dontre Wilson

"Yeah, I think so," Wilson said of his increased duties. 

"They used Philly like that, but he was still more of a receiver because he wasn't that heavy. I'm 190 now so hopefully I'll get a lot of backfield action in the slot."

A season ago Wilson was still learning the position, but managed to tie for fourth on the team with 22 receptions, while also rushing for 250 yards. 

Wilson would seem to possess everything the Ohio State coaches are looking for, and he displayed his various skills this past spring in strong fashion. In fact, both Meyer and receivers coach Zach Smith said that Wilson was their most consistent receiver. That's good news considering everything they are going to ask from the sophomore this season.

"We're excited about Dontre and what he's able to do, his versatility," Smith said. 

"But that's not something – I don't think Philly was incapable of doing a lot of those things. We did some of them with him. But I think as the offense grows and my group gets better and we develop offense, that will be more of a versatile position. We're excited about Dontre in that position, and Jalin Marshall."

Ah yes, Jalin Marshall. He was also one of the more impressive players on offense this spring before being lost to a minor knee injury.

Jalin Marshall
Photo by JIm Davidson
Jalin Marshall

Marshall redshirted last season but began showing what he could do later in the year. He picked up this spring right where he left off in the fall, and his teammates certainly noticed him.

"A lot of the things that he's done so far before he got hurt were things that he didn't do last year," said senior receiver Devin Smith. 

"He impressed Coach Meyer a little bit before he got hurt, but I think he's one guy that could make some noise if he keeps it up."

Marshall was an option quarterback in high school, and knows his way around an off tackle play. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Marshall is compact and powerful. He is able to break a tackle or two when given the opportunity.

The H-back position is such a prominent role in this offense that it only ranks behind quarterback and tailback in terms of production. Because of the possibilities, and the difficulty in finding that perfect fit, the OSU coaches are always looking for candidates.

In fact, there appeared to be three possibilities in the 2014 class alone. Curtis Samuel enrolled early and was seen as a player who would get a look at both running back and receiver, but he ended up doing so well at the first that they never gave him a look at the second.

"Curtis Samuel is playing running back," said Zach Smith. 

"We could certainly line him up like we do with all of our running backs in the slot or wherever, but he's a running back. He's not going to play that hybrid right now."

There is also Parris Campbell, who played running back last year at Akron St. Vincent - St. Mary. Where he will ultimately end up, we don't know, but we do know where he will be starting.

"He's gonna start out at wideout, and then we'll see what he can do, just like a lot of these kids," Smith said.

The third possibility among the freshmen is Noah Brown, a 6-foot-2 225-pound brute who excelled in high school as both a tailback and a receiver. There is even talk, though likely unnecessary, that he could flex out a bit as an extra tight end at times.

"What we do with him will depend a lot on what he does when he gets here," Smith said of Brown back on signing day. 

"You never really know what you have until they get here. We're really excited about him. He is a big, good-looking talented dude. So when he gets here, if he is what he is, then we'll be able to do a lot of things."

So much is yet to be determined on what the incoming players will be able to do. As was seen with Samuel, plans can change pretty quickly.

The good news for the Buckeyes, however, is that there continues to be new candidates for one of the most important roles on the offense, and they grow more versatile by the day.

The Buckeyes had the best offense in school history a year ago, but just imagine what it will look like when Meyer and Herman finally get the offense where they want it. 

A more versatile option at H-back is part of that design, and it should start taking shape in a big way in 2014.

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