Replacing JK Dobbins is going to be a tall order for the Buckeyes this year. He rushed for a school-record 2,003 yards and played his best last year against the best teams.
He was also a workhorse.
Of the 499 carries by a running back last year, Dobbins had 301 of them — or 60%. The rest of the carries went mainly to Master Teague, whose 135 attempts came mostly in the fourth quarters of blowouts. It was great experience for Teague, and is certainly something he will rely upon in his bid to be the Buckeyes’ starter in 2020.
The thing is, the Ohio State starting running back in 2020 may not be looking at the same 300 carries that Dobbins received a season ago. With no proven starters but plenty of talented contenders, there is a chance the Buckeyes move to a committee approach with their running backs.
Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon didn’t come to Ohio State to sit. He has over 2,000 rushing yards in his career to prove that he is capable. Teague, meanwhile, rushed for 789 yards as the Buckeyes’ backup last year, which is rarefied air and generally an indicator of very good things to come down the road.
Second-year players Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers also impressed in their rookie seasons last year. And fifth-year senior Demario McCall is always meandering back and forth from the receivers room to the running backs room.
Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford has four or five returning players he can turn to this season, which is more than he’s ever had before. The number of options he has this year is one major reason why some could see the Buckeyes turning to a committee approach at tailback.
“You know, I’ve said this all along, I said this when JK was here even with Mike Weber and things like that, you don’t have any preconceived ideas of ‘well, we’re going to just run one guy, so we have to get this guy ready.’ They’re all going to get ready to play,” Alford said recently. “They’re all going to be prepared to play and we’re gonna do whatever we need to do to win games.
“And if that’s with a committee approach, then that’s fine. If it’s not, then it’s not. But to say what that’s going to be right now, I think that’s premature on my part. I think we’re just gonna go through and see how we do, and we’ll do what we need to do to win games, whatever that looks like.”
The challenge of getting everybody ready is much different this year than any year before. The pandemic erased the spring and the valuable learning process that occurs there. This was going to be a very big spring for Chambers, as he was the only healthy Buckeye running back on the team. This was going to be his opportunity to show Alford that he could be a valuable member of the committee.
Instead, the players are spread all over the country, taking part in meetings on the computer. Trying to improve themselves as best they can without a fraction of the materials they would have back in Columbus.
“Well, it’s hard. It’s challenging, to be honest,” Alford said of making his players better in these conditions. “But the one thing is that it’s a challenge for everybody across the country, so we’re not unique in that regard. But the one thing that we do have is we have some pretty smart kids. We got guys that are very bright. They’ve been in there, some of the guys like Master Teague and Crowley and Steele Chambers, those guys have been here.”
The fact that there are so many returning players who are all having to learn the same way and with no opportunity to distance themselves on the field is another reason why the Buckeyes could start the season rotating running backs at a healthy pace. Especially if fall camp and workouts are abbreviated when things start returning.
The same reason a committee is expected is also why Alford thinks the group will hit the ground running — this is a talented and experienced bunch.
Establishing the pecking order will come at a later date.
“They know what we’re trying to do drill wise. They know what that stuff looks like,” Alford said. “And all we can do is hope for the best that they’re doing and taking care of those things and trying to refine their skills on their own to the best of their abilities, and I believe that they are. And hopefully when they come back here, we’ll pick it up and go from there.”