Fall camp gets underway for the Buckeyes on Friday and every single Ohio State position coach will have a mental list of things that they need to get done.
In fact, they may actually have a physical list as well.
Speculating as to what might be on each assistant coach’s list is always a fun exercise, and there are no shortages of items that will need to be addressed.
Up today is running backs coach Tony Alford, who returns three tailbacks from last year’s team and adds two true freshmen into the mix.
Last season was a bad one on the ground for the Buckeyes. That can’t happen again, and Alford no doubt has a checklist in mind to make sure it doesn’t.
What might that list look like?
1. Keep JK Dobbins running hard.
Ryan Day has said this offseason that they want JK Dobbins turning 3-yard carries into 5-yard carries and fighting for extra yards. Bringing more fight to his running style should lead to more broken tackles and more big plays. That process began in the winter and continued in the spring when Dobbins said he didn’t want the leniency that many veterans are granted. He wants to show last year was a fluke, which should make Tony Alford’s task here a bit easier, but it’s one that is still going to be closely monitored.
2. Get Demario McCall reps.
Demario McCall spent his time this spring watching practice rather than taking part. He was basically the hot rod that Tony Alford and Ryan Day couldn’t wait to get out on the open road, but they couldn’t ever get it out of the shop. During camp, they have to get him reps and get him back involved. Getting him back into the flow will also allow them to work on the packages and plans they have for him. McCall could add so much to this Ohio State offense, but only if he is healthy enough to take advantage of the possibilities.
3. Bring back the explosive plays.
Last season was a bad one in terms of explosive running plays for the Buckeyes. Their six rushes for 30 yards or more was the fewest by a Buckeye team in the last decade, and was only good for 10th in the Big Ten last year. Their 15 rushes for at least 20 yards was ninth in the Big Ten, and again it was the lowest mark in the last decade for OSU. By comparison, in 2017 the Buckeyes had 18 rushes of 30 yards and 35 of at least 20 yards. Both numbers led the Big Ten. Last year was the first year Ohio State finished out of the top three in 30-yard rushes in the Big Ten since they were fourth in 2012. Pushing JK Dobbins to run harder should help this number, as would a healthy Demario McCall. An improved run-blocking offensive line would make things easier, as would a running threat at quarterback, but the tailbacks have to do their part, and Alford will be working hard to make that happen.
4. Regain the feel for the read option.
Ohio State probably ran about 15 true read-option plays last season where Dwayne Haskins could have handed the ball off or kept it and ran with it. They also ran some RPOs early in the season where the running back may be given the ball or Haskins would keep it to throw it. Over the second half of the season or so, the main deception when it came to the hand-off was a simple play-action pass. This year, however, the read option running game is back, as is the RPO, so the running backs are going to have to get back into the habit of being patient at the mesh point and letting the quarterback determine at the very last second where the football is going to go.
5. Prepare the depth.
JK Dobbins and Demario McCall are experienced and aren’t out of place on the field. The other three running backs, however, cannot say the same thing. Redshirt freshman Master Teague ran the ball 17 times last season for 106 yards, but those carries came in three games that the Buckeyes won by an average score of 59-13. Teague has yet to be part of a game that is in doubt. True freshmen Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers aren’t in a much different spot when it comes to pressure situations. The Buckeyes need at least one more running back to step up in camp who can be relied upon this season. Teague is expected to be that guy, which is something that Tony Alford will definitely be working to make happen. And given McCall’s unfortunate injury history, getting two freshmen ready to play this year wouldn’t be a bad idea.