How do you replace a guy who just had the greatest single season for an Ohio State running back ever?
That is the task for Buckeye running backs coach Tony Alford following the junior season for JK Dobbins, who is now off to the NFL for what should be a very solid career.
Dobbins rushed for 2,003 yards this past season, becoming the first Buckeye to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a season. And he didn’t do it by padding his stats against the worst that Ohio State faced. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The only games where Dobbins failed to rush for 100 yards were the four games in which he never took a second-half carry.
Dobbins rushed for 1,404 yards in the first half this past season, which was one more yard than he managed total during his record-breaking freshman year of 2017.
Dobbins faced six defenses ranked in the Top 13 rush defenses nationally in 2019 and ran for 172, 163, 157, 211, 172, and 174 yards against them, respectively.
No team was able to contain Dobbins, with the possible exception of Florida Atlantic to open the season.
He got better as the game and season went on and he is going to be nearly impossible to replace.
No matter who ran the ball for the Buckeyes in 2019, they were generally very productive. The good news is that right now everyone but JK Dobbins will return. The transfer portal may eventually come calling, but there are four running backs with experience on the roster and one — and possibly two — freshmen who will arrive in the summer.
Master Teague eventually won the backup job as a redshirt freshman, rushing for 789 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Teague was the closer for the Buckeyes, getting the ball in the second half to pound on the weakened defenses. He finished 10th nationally with 359 yards rushing in the fourth quarter this past season.
As a true freshman in 2019, Marcus Crowley impressed before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He carried the ball 25 times for 237 yards, averaging 9.5 yards per carry. His freshman season wasn’t all that different from Ezekiel Elliott back in 2013, who rushed for 262 yards on 30 carries. The main difference was that Crowley did his damage in four fewer games.
Fellow true freshman Steele Chambers played in four games, so unlike Crowley, he maintained his redshirt. Chambers still managed to rush for 135 yards on 19 carries, scoring once. Even in his limited attempts, Chambers showed more elusiveness than many expected given his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame.
Bringing up the rear in terms of carries for the running backs in 2019 was, surprisingly, Demario McCall. McCall played in 13 games, but carried the ball just 18 times for 122 yards. Heading into his fifth year, he will no doubt be looking for his biggest season yet.
True freshman Miyan Williams will join the fray in the summer. He may or may not be joined by another running back signee as Ryan Day continues to look at running back possibilities in the 2020 class.
There will be an all-out running back competition this spring. With JK Dobbins gone, Ryan Day is going to want to find a new reliable workhorse. He may or may not find one, but it won’t be for lack of looking.
Teague’s role as the backup this past season makes him the most likely winner of the job, but he can’t just be expecting to win it by default.
Crowley’s health will be a question mark. Will he be ready to go? What kind of balance will there be between wanting to give him a chance to compete and not wanting to bring him back too soon?
Also, with Dobbins so involved in the passing game in 2019 (23 receptions), will there be a role for a pass-catching back in 2020, and will the process of filling that role start in the spring?
Even though there will be a competition, the starting running back job is likely Master Teague’s to lose. No Buckeye backup running back has ever rushed for more than Teague’s 789 yards in the season before they became the starter, so that would seemingly have to count for something.
That being said, the most productive running back in practice will be the Buckeyes’ starter in 2020.
This is a fairly diverse group of tailbacks and there could certainly be a situation where there is room for at least three of them in the coming season.
Replacing JK Dobbins is going to be virtually impossible, but this group should be talented enough to fill in their own roles and occupy their own niches as productively as needed for this Ohio State offense to again be one of the best in the nation.