With Tuesday’s news that redshirt sophomore running back Master Teague is out for the spring with an undisclosed injury, an already thin running back room grew even thinner for the Buckeyes.
When spring practice kicked off on Monday, there were just two scholarship running backs taking reps for the Buckeyes. It was Teague and redshirt freshman Steele Chambers, and then the walk-ons. The team was already without sophomore Marcus Crowley, who tore his ACL in the Maryland game last November.
While Ohio State isn’t giving out any information on the nature of Teague’s injury or the severity, sources have told The-Ozone that it is a possible Achilles tendon injury. The breadth of the injury is still a question mark and all OSU is saying at this point is Teague is no longer available this spring.
The Buckeyes have lost players each of the previous two seasons to Achilles injuries. Linebacker Tuf Borland tore his Achilles in 2018 and linebacker Justin Hilliard tore his last year. Both players made it back for the season opener and they suffered their injuries about three weeks later than Teague. And again, the extent of Teague’s injury isn’t known, so he may be more than fine by the time fall camp begins this year.
In the meantime, the Buckeyes have to figure some things out.
One easy fix is moving fifth-year senior Demario McCall from H-back to running back. Head coach Ryan Day said that was always the plan this spring even before news of Teague’s injury broke. McCall’s entire career has been spent moving back and forth from running back to receiver, so this is nothing new to him.
The move of McCall into the backfield would also permit freshman receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba to get more snaps in the slot as the Buckeyes look for receivers to pair with veterans Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.
Chambers and McCall should get the bulk of the reps this spring. Chambers played in a few games last year, rushing for 135 yards on 19 carries, so he should get some healthy work this spring.
The Buckeyes also like third-year walk-on Xavier Johnson. Johnson (6-2 215) was a starter on special teams last season. He was a 3-star wide receiver in the 2018 class with offers from Iowa State, North Dakota State, Cincinnati, and others.
Fellow walk-on Robert Cope will also continue to get work this spring.
Even though finding some reliable slot receivers is important to this offense, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see freshman receiver Mookie Cooper getting some reps in the backfield.
Cooper (5-10 195) already looks the part. Day and receivers coach Brian Hartline have talked about Cooper’s possibilities as a ball carrier in this offense. They probably didn’t mean as a running back, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
There is also redshirt sophomore Jaelen Gill, who was the No. 1 or No. 2 all-purpose back in the 2018 recruiting class. He is dealing with some type of injury this spring, so is listed on OSU’s availability list as “limited.”
Even still, listed at 6-0 188, he’s an unlikely mover because Hartline has been working hard to get Gill to the point of a contributor as an H. Combine that process with some type of current injury and it would be surprising to see him lining up at tailback.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the spring features more throwing than running, so having two scholarship backs and two walk-ons isn’t all that unheard of. After all, that’s what they were working with before Teague’s injury in the first place.
What About After Spring?
There is speculation (from outside the program) that Ohio State could look to the transfer portal for running back help. They are undoubtedly monitoring the portal daily regardless of position, and who knows, perhaps they’ll come upon somebody who could help.
As Ryan Day said on Monday, however, the roster is pretty full right now. In fact, there is no room to add anybody else at this point. The weeks after spring ball generally feature some transfers as players get a better feel for where they stand on the depth chart. Just as the Buckeyes may be losing a couple of players, other running back possibilities may emerge.
There is, however, a long list of tailbacks currently out there in the transfer portal.
Indiana sophomore running back Sampson James showed up in the portal this week. James was originally an Ohio State commit, but turned his back on the Buckeyes, so that bridge may be pretty well burnt. There’s also likely no reason that he would be granted immediate eligibility.
Former 5-star tailback Ricky Slade is leaving Penn State. Ohio State recruited him for a while, but again, there’s no reason for him to be eligible immediately.
Wisconsin running back Bradrick Shaw was given a sixth year of eligibility and earlier this winter he entered the portal. He is eligible to play right away.
But if you look at what Ohio State will have in August — even if Master Teague isn’t ready yet — there really isn’t an overwhelming need to bring somebody new in.
With Chambers, Crowley, and McCall, the Buckeyes would have the pair and a spare that Woody Hayes always demanded. They would eventually then add Teague at some point.
Freshman Miyan Williams also arrives in the summer. And if the Buckeyes would like another playmaker in the backfield, they could possibly look to incoming freshman Cameron Martinez.
Martinez has been projected as a defensive back, but he was an ultra-productive ground-gainer as an option quarterback in high school. Ryan Day even mentioned on signing day that it could be possible for Martinez to end up at tailback.
Even though Day on Monday characterized the possibility of losing one of the two scholarship tailbacks as a crisis before he was possibly fully aware that he was in the very situation he was describing, things should be just fine once September rolls around.
Master Teague may or may not be full go for the open of camp, but Marcus Crowley is expected to be, as are Steele Chambers, Demario McCall, and any other number of possibilities.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when the Buckeyes have a quarterback who can also run, as they do with Justin Fields, the number of carries available for a third running back is usually prett small.
No team is unaffected by losing their presumed starting running back.
However, few teams are as equipped to handle it as the Buckeyes.
And if Ryan Day really wants to get crazy, he could always put redshirt freshman tight end Cade Stover in the backfield. Stover rushed for 1,477 yards as a bigh school senior, after all.