They say when you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one. When you have two running backs, however, you should probably use them.
More and more in both college and professional football, the running game is being split between two running backs, which keeps the wear and tear from building up too much on any one ball carrier.
Ohio State hasn’t really had that under Urban Meyer, choosing instead to rely on one running back and a talented runner at quarterback. Using two running backs is something that new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has had plenty of experience with, however.
In 2015, Wilson had two 1,000-yard rushers on the same team as Jordan Howard rushed for 1,213 yards and Devine Redding rushed for 1,012 yards. Together, those two players were responsible for over 70% of Indiana’s carries that season. Similarly, in 2013 Tevin Coleman rushed for 958 yards and Stephen Houston rushed for 753 yards.
Now, Wilson has also had seasons where he relied mostly on just one running back, as he did with Coleman in 2014. Coleman responded with 2,036 yards rushing.
When the talent has been on hand, however, Wilson has been more than eager to use it.
The Buckeyes enter 2017 with an established starter in Mike Weber, who rushed for 1,096 yards last season. Expectations for Weber in 2017 continue to mount, but he won’t be able to do it all on his own. Three other running backs are currently vying to share some of the carries that Wilson is planning on having available.
Sophomore Antonio Williams battled injuries in the spring, so he’ll have to make more of an impression throughout fall camp. Sophomore Demario McCall is already more of a known quantity, but Urban Meyer still has some questions about him.
“I’m hoping he’s a factor,” Meyer said. “He’s certainly showed signs of great elusiveness. Our question is how durable can he be and how strong can he be, because he’s had a very good offseason. I’m hoping to move him around a little bit.”
Surprisingly, one player who is less of a question mark is also the only running back in the discussion who has never played before — true freshman J.K. Dobbins.
“Oh yeah, he’s playing,” Meyer said. “Sure. He’s already proven the fact that he’s going to play.”
What is it about Dobbins that has set him apart a bit?
“Being here for spring was awesome for him,” Wilson said. “He’s very smart and mature for a young kid, very explosive and dynamic. It’s been a whole year since he played football so he’ll need to have a good preseason. Tony (Alford) will do a great job of bringing him along the right way. He has looked very good. He’s a very talented kid.”
With plans to use McCall in a variety of different ways, this would seemingly open up Dobbins to be the No. 2 option at tailback that the Buckeyes are looking for. Two running backs hasn’t been Meyer’s forte at Ohio State, but Wilson is going to fight for it this season.
“I think you need more than one tailback that’s ready to play because the volume of plays you get, the volume of practice you get,” Wilson explained. “You look at the elite pro teams and they’ve got their one-two punch, especially if you’re a tempo team trying to get plays, you can have so many plays you wear guys out. That happens with practice, everything we’re doing right now in preseason practice will have an effect on this team in November.”
There are plenty of reasons to share the carries, not the least of which is the fact that Weber spent the latter portion of 2016 playing with an injured shoulder. Two running backs can distribute the burden, or they can better take advantage of a defense. Or maybe two tailbacks have to play simply because they are too good to sit. All of these are factors in getting more players into the fold.
And if possible, Wilson wouldn’t mind seeing a third running back involved either.
“The amount of running that Mike Weber does and J. K. Dobbins, so you need kind of three you can play with, you’d kind of like to push it so you can get three out there (in games),” he said. “Does one guy have more plays and more yards? Maybe. Are you lucky enough to have two guys? To me, we want to be a great running team that sets up the pass and gets it outside and gets down that field. You’ve got to take care of the ball and take care of the quarterback. That has never changed no matter what you’re trying to do.”