Some coaches have trouble deciding which players to play because their choices are limited. Picking and choosing could sometimes be better described as scouring and scrounging. They are often looking for “Door No. 3” because they don’t like their first two options. As you might expect, Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford doesn’t have that problem. He knows what (and who) is behind each of his doorways and he has no reason to look for something better behind a door that may not even have anything to offer.
Alford isn’t in to mystery. He’s into truths, and his truths are that running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are two of the best running backs in the country. Dobbins rushed for 1,403 yards last year as a true freshman, leading the Big Ten with a 7.2-yard-per-carry average. The year before, Weber rushed for 1,096 yards as a redshirt freshman.
Both players earned Second-Team All-Big Ten honors as freshmen, and they are now both better than they were back then.
Most coaches would sell an organ for just one supremely talented running back. And don’t even ask what they’d do for two of them.
At Ohio State, the running back options are deep, and they go beyond just Weber and Dobbins. Things are so good nowadays that the Buckeyes felt like they could move redshirt sophomore Demario McCall from running back to H-back. That’s the same H-back position where last year’s two leading receivers K.J. Hill and Parris Campbell still reside. And there are significant expectations this year for McCall, so don’t think he’s just being shuffled around like a piece of furniture.
The running back room also featured third-year player Antonio Williams, who had his best spring as a Buckeye. Due to the depth, Williams transferred to North Carolina once spring ball was over. Some would argue that one of the additional reasons he transferred was because of the performance of true freshman Master Teague, who enrolled early.
Teague is big, strong, and fast, and gives Alford another option if such an occasion should arise. Next month, the running backs room will add Brian Snead, who was the No. 3 running back in the 2018 recruiting class.
It would be an embarrassment of riches if Alford wasn’t so happy to show off his players. With just one football to go round, however, deciding which player to show off when could become a problem.
How will Alford decides who plays and who doesn’t?
“Who I like better,” he laughed. “That’s a joke. I think it’s just the flow of the game and how things are going.”
There are no dummies in his room — they know none of them are going to carry the ball 25 times per game this season. But there’s no reason that Weber and Dobbins can’t combine for 30 or so between them.
In fact, they expect to split carries and they both believe there will be enough touches to go around. Teague would probably like some carries as well, but as a freshman, expectations are malleable. He saw how much better Dobbins and Weber were, and he sees how much more they know in the classroom. Teague knows he is still learning, and Weber and Dobbins are happily teaching.
Everyone has the same goal, and they believe there is a role for each of them.
Alford doesn’t know who will carry the ball when, but he does know that when the time comes, he’ll be able to call on anybody and they will be able to execute.
“Those guys are accountable guys,” Alford said. “They’ve all grown in their own right as far as the scheme and how we do things here. They’re all very well bought in to what we’re doing as far as the culture of our program and how we do things within the room. A lot of it is the feel of the game and how it’s going.”