With Mike Weber spending most of the Ohio State fall camp sidelined with a hamstring injury, true freshman J.K. Dobbins was given an opportunity to carry the load, and he has responded.
Weber is expected to be back and full-go by the time the Buckeyes head to Bloomington to open the season, but even when he returns, he won’t have to carry the load by himself.
Dobbins has been the subject of many conversations this preseason. His play has garnered plenty of attention from national media, local media, and his teammates. He has also gotten the attention of his position coach, Tony Alford.
Dobbins enrolled early in the winter and has exceeded expectations from the very first day. The only trouble now is figuring out where those expectations end. As of Friday afternoon, however, we officially know where those expectations begin — he is Ohio State’s backup running back as a true freshman.
“Without question,” Alford said. “This guy loves football. He’s smart. I would say that in my 22 years, and I say this not to take anything away from anyone else, this guy has picked it up faster than anybody I’ve ever been around in my 22 years, as a true freshman. He’s picked it up — he understands the offense, the nuances of it — very, very quickly. He plays hard. He goes so hard in everything he does, which is part of the culture of this program.”
Urban Meyer wants all of his players going A-to-B, 4-to-6, but he especially wants his freshmen doing that. If they go full bore, it doesn’t matter how many mistakes they make early.
The difference between Dobbins and normal freshmen, however, is that there just aren’t a lot of mistakes being made.
“It’s been a great progression from spring to fall, but then you can watch him daily progress,” Alford said. “It’s daily. You can see him just, he figures it out. You say something to him, and he’ll sit there and just kind of look at you. It’s churning in his mind, ‘Okay, here’s what you’re saying.’ He asks lots of questions, and they’re great questions. He wants to learn. And that’s the thing, he’s hungry to learn. Can’t ask for any more than that. Right now in my room, he’s been great. He’s picked things up exceptionally fast.”
Now, just because Dobbins is the backup doesn’t mean he’s going to be that involved, right? After all, the Buckeyes have had freshmen tailbacks as the team’s No. 2 before. Curtis Samuel was Ezekiel Elliott’s backup in 2014 and he carried the ball just 58 times in 15 games. And technically, Demario McCall was Mike Weber’s backup last year, but he never saw time until a game was effectively over.
Is Dobbins being the No. 2 running back any different than the freshmen before him? Are his carries just going to be cursory, or is Dobbins really going to contribute?
“Oh, he’s going to contribute,” Alford said assuredly. “I’m not trying to be nice. It is what it is. He’s going to contribute.”