“Study your craft and know who you are and what’s special about you.” – Paul Newman
A native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Paul Newman was an actor, director, producer, race car driver, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. A little known fact about Newman was that he turned to acting after being kicked off his football team while in college. Perhaps Newman had already taken measure of his talent, applied the above quote to himself, and made what turned out to be a better choice.
Nonetheless, Paul Newman’s words are certainly applicable to the next position group I will be reviewing, the 2018 Ohio State running backs.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing articles that will examine the various position groups within the team, leading up to the Ohio State Spring Game, scheduled for April 14th. These pieces will look at the position groups from positions of least concern to greatest concern, based upon the returning players, incoming recruits, and performances that were seen throughout the 2017 season.
With spring practice, the threat of injury is of paramount concern, and the possibilities of transfers during/following spring practice can have an impact upon the position rankings. As always, it is my sincere hope that these articles will spark discussion and dialogue, and I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I look forward to writing them.
Onto the subject of at hand, the 2018 Ohio State running backs.
Players Lost: None
Players Returning: Demario McCall (Redshirt Sophomore), Mike Weber (Redshirt Junior), J.K. Dobbins (Sophomore), Antonio Williams (Junior)
Incoming Recruits: Jaelen Gill (H-Back), Brian Snead, Master Teague
Why did I rank the running backs as an area of low concern? In a theme similar to the previous position group ranking for defensive line, the returning talent and depth at the running back position group makes me comfortable going into the 2018 season. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and running backs coach Tony Alford have a lot of talent to work with in 2018.
Using Paul Newman’s quote as a guide to apply to the running backs, one could speculate that the Ohio State offensive coaching staff has figured out what is truly special about each player within the group. The four returning running backs rushed for 2,455 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2017. Those numbers do not even reflect how players such as Parris Campbell (132 yards rushing, 1 touchdown), and, more notably, J.T. Barrett (798 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns) impacted the overall Ohio State rushing attack in 2017.
Speaking of the departure of J.T. Barrett, Barrett carried the ball, or was credited with carrying the ball, 165 times in 2017. IF Ohio State decides to move from the quarterback read-option as a primary staple of the offense, and that is still in the speculation phase, where will those 165 carries go in 2018? Here is where the above listed running backs from the 2017 season come into discussion.
There is little that needs to be said to further amplify the greatness of J.K. Dobbins’ freshman season in 2017. Dobbins goes into spring practice, primed to become the focal point of the Ohio State rushing attack.
Mike Weber’s return for the 2018 season, after battling injury for most of the 2017 season, is another reason for my optimistic nature for this position group. If J.K. Dobbins is Ohio State’s lightning (1,403 yards rushing , averaged 7.2 yards per carry, 7 touchdowns), Mike Weber could certainly represent its thunder (626 yards rushing, averaged 6.2 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns). Mike Weber could be a prime beneficiary of the carries that may have otherwise been taken by J.T. Barrett a year ago.
A combination of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber at tailback, with each carrying or touching the ball anywhere between 10-20 times per game, would potentially allow both player to stay fresh, while also playing the type of ball control, power running game that Urban Meyer favors for the Ohio State offense. If there is any caution I have with Mike Weber, it is that Weber has never played a season at Ohio State without injury concerns.
The mysteries on the depth chart would fall upon Antonio Williams and Demario McCall, but for different reasons. Antonio Williams played a supporting role in 2017, with 290 yards rushing, averaged 5.1 yards per carry, and 3 touchdowns. How many carries will be left for Antonio Williams if J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber receive the majority, as expected? With talented incoming freshmen arriving, how secure is Williams’ place on the depth chart?
As for Demario McCall, 2017 was a washout, as injuries limited McCall to only four games, leading to him eing redshirted. McCall moved to H-back late in the season and would seem to be an ideal candidate there within the Ohio State offense, provided he is fully beyond the nagging injuries from 2017.
As written above, Parris Campbell was sometimes used as a ball carrier in 2017. Will McCall get the carries that otherwise would have gone to Campbell? My man Brandon Zimmerman is of the opinion that Campbell will once again get the H-Back duties in 2018, but a healthy Demario McCall could factor into that discussion.
The incoming freshmen of Jaelen Gill, Brian Snead, and Master Teague will all be looking to impress the coaching staff, with the knowledge that there is a stacked depth chart confronting them in 2018. All three may get playing time in 2018, but it will not be surprising if the coaching staff decides to redshirt at least one of them.
Mike Weber was rumored to be considering declaring early for the 2018 NFL Draft; it is reasonable to believe that with a strong year, Weber will leave after the 2018 season for the NFL. It would be in Ohio State’s best interests to get these freshmen some playing time, if only in preparation for the 2019 season. With the proposed redshirting rule in 2018, perhaps the coaching staff will use these players extensively in September, during non-conference play.