Tony Alford and his Ohio State running backs will enter the spring with four scholarship players in J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber, Antonio Williams, and true freshman Master Teague.
It’s a deep group that is going to get even deeper in the summer.
It is also a group with more production than most programs. The Buckeyes are one of the few (only?) teams this coming season with two 1,000-yard rushers on the roster. Having a starter like Dobbins or Weber would make most teams happy, but keeping the running backs happy will be one of Tony Alford’s goals this season.
Before he can get to that point, however, he has some things he needs to take care of this spring. We’ve put a few of them down on virtual paper for you.
1. Keep everyone healthy.
Duh, right? Still, this is a group that has had their fair share of injuries in the last couple of years, even freshman Master Teague had to deal with an ankle injury as a senior last year. He’s fine now, but will still need to be monitored. Then you turn to the veterans, and they have all dealt with their own issues as well. J.K. Dobbins managed to stay healthy last season after missing his entire senior season, but Mike Weber was rarely healthy last season. He may still have a wrist issue in the spring, but his legs are healthy. Antonio Williams has had his nicks and dings his first couple of seasons as well. This is a deep group, but depth can go away in a hurry when injuries hit.
2. Give Antonio Williams plenty of work.
While this might fly in the face of the first item on the to-do list, there is no time for coddling players who are still looking to prove themselves. Antonio Williams is one of those players. Williams has 63 career carries, with 57 of them coming last season. He has yet to carry the ball in a game decided by fewer than four touchdowns. Part of that is the running backs in front of him, part is the H-back running the ball, and part is the quarterback run. Mostly, however, Williams needs to show his coaches that he should be playing. J.K. Dobbins did it last year and unseated a 1,000-yard rusher. At this point, Alford knows what he has in Williams, but this spring will be another opportunity for Williams to earn some thought in the fall.
3. See what Master Teague can do.
Freshman Master Teague is already enrolled and says he is good to go for the spring, so there’s reason to ignore him. Yes, there is a learning curve and that will need to be accounted for, but if a player is mature enough to enroll early, they’re mature enough to see what happens when they get thrown in the deep end of the pool. Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins don’t need a ton of reps, and what they don’t get can be evenly split between Teague and Antonio Williams. Let the best man win.
4. Get Weber and Dobbins comfortable playing together.
Remember the talk and the teases of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins in the backfield together last year? We finally saw a glimpse of it late in the season, but it’s time to see more. Kyle Morgan of No Huddle Scouts dubbed it “The Unicorn Formation” for it’s mythical existence and rarely-seenedness. I think we’ll see quite a few unicorns in 2018, however, and that might start in the spring. They have worked on it in practice last season, but didn’t go to it. Alford and the offensive coordinators should work on it some more this spring so that when they get back to it in Fall Camp, everyone is comfortable with it. Because once OSU is comfortable with it, it should make everyone else in the Big Ten uncomfortable.
5. Work on life without the QB run.
Don’t get this wrong, the quarterback run is not going away, but there will be other running games employed. This will include jet sweeps, split backs, Demario McCall motioning into the backfield, plain-old hand-offs, and plenty of other tricks as well. What some of this will require is run blocking by the tailbacks. If they can’t block, then they won’t play. And if none of them can block, then that greatly limits what you can do in the running game. Ohio State running backs have been waiting for more touches, and that may come this year, but it will also come with some additional requirements.