Demario McCall has provided glimpses.
Ninety yards of total offense and a pair of scores in his first collegiate game back in 2016.
Eighty-five yards rushing in his third career game.
He didn’t play a lot as a true freshman, but when he was on the field, he was effective. McCall rushed for 73 yards against Nebraska, then posted 101 all-purpose yards the following week at Maryland.
As a sophomore, he rushed for 103 yards in a game at Rutgers before missing the rest of the season due to injury and redshirting. As Urban Meyer said at the time, McCall wasn’t even 100% against the Scarlet Knights.
With 2017 being lost to injury, the expectations were ramped up in 2018, but McCall found himself in a difficult depth chart situation with JK Dobbins and Mike Weber at running back and Parris Campbell and KJ Hill at H-back.
Offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson still wanted to find a spot for McCall in 2018, which they finally did in the Michigan game, getting him on a wheel route against future first-round middle linebacker Devin Bush. McCall left Bush in the shrubs, picking up a big gain on the completion and providing a blueprint for usage in 2019.
“He can be a matchup nightmare,” running backs coach Tony Alford said one year ago. “You put him in the backfield and shift him out into some empty sets and make linebackers go out there and cover him. That’s a matchup problem.”
There is no doubt he is a matchup problem. Everyone saw him dust one of the nation’s fastest linebackers in 2018, but it didn’t happen last year.
McCall ran the ball 18 times and caught just four passes in 2019. He didn’t even touch the ball for the Buckeyes in any of their final four games, on offense or special teams.
The offensive brain trust at Ohio State isn’t ready to give up on their plans for McCall, it’s just been difficult to implement.
There was a role designed for McCall, but he was again a victim of the depth chart.
“It didn’t quite play out like [they wanted],” Day said last week. “And I think a lot had to do with how well JK was playing. It was hard to take JK off the field last year. And same thing with KJ. We got into a rhythm a little bit. KJ was in the slot and then we were getting some 12 personnel. So we never got quite that far with Demario. But we’re going to — this spring he’s going to play some running back. He’s going to line up at slot and do both of those things.”
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With the injury to Master Teague this spring, McCall is expected to get more running back reps through camp than he would have originally. This should give the Buckeyes an opportunity to work on some of those mismatches that McCall provides, as well as letting the defensive staff see which of their players handles guys like him the best.
McCall opened the spring in the slot, but with sophomore receiver Garrett Wilson inside as well, along with freshmen Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Mookie Cooper, the need for another body at H may be waning.
But then considering McCall an H-back may not be the proper thinking. He is a running back who can present some problems in the slot. His home, however, will always be the backfield.
“Demario can still do that,” Day said after the first spring practice of camp. “We’re just starting him out at slot and we can always bring him back. He has that skill set. It’s something that we’ve always tried to find that role for him where he can be a running back and also be a matchup problem for teams like that.”
With both JK Dobbins and KJ Hill gone, there are snaps available. Now it’s just up to the coaches to follow through on their plans, and up to McCall to make everyone wonder why it took so long.