On March 10th, Ohio State began spring practice and will have fifteen spring football practices before the conclusion of spring practice on April 18th in Ohio Stadium. Over the next few weeks, I will rank the top ten questions facing Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff as the Buckeyes retake the football field after concluding the 2014 season as the national champions.
These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.
8. Running Back/Hybrid
Key Players/Contributors Lost: None
Key Players/Contributors Returning For 2015: All. Jalin Marshall (Redshirt Sophomore H-B), Dontre Wilson (Junior H-B); Warren Ball (Redshirt Junior RB), Bri’onte Dunn (Redshirt Junior RB), Ezekiel Elliott (Junior RB), Curtis Samuel (Sophomore RB).
A few things to point out before writing too much further…
Ezekiel Elliott had surgery on his left wrist on February 20th, which will preclude Elliott from participating in any contact drills during spring practice. On March 10th, Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer stated that Dontre Wilson was also going to be limited for spring practice, as Wilson is still rehabilitating from his injury that ended Wilson’s 2014 season.
It is truly difficult to list this position group as a concern. After Elliott’s performances versus Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon last season, Elliott has been tagged as a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate heading into the 2015 season.
My concerns are more of the variety of what would Ohio State do in the event that Elliott is injured and unable to play?
Rising sophomore Curtis Samuel may get the first opportunity to emerge as the primary running back. With Elliott limited this spring, Samuel may be running with the first team offense during contact drills.
Rising redshirt juniors Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball should look at this spring with the theme of an old Elvis Presley song ~ “It’s Now Or Never“. While both Dunn and Ball were heavily recruited players coming out of high school, both players have been supplanted by first Elliott, then Samuel, on the depth chart. If either want to become more involved in the offense, beyond playing on special teams, both need to make their moves this spring to catch the eye of Coach Meyer and new Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford. With highly-touted recruit Mike Weber arriving this summer, neither can squander these spring practices, or they both run the risk of Weber leapfrogging them on the depth chart. It will not be surprising to see both earn considerable time in the spring game scheduled for April 18th.
At the H-Back position, rising redshirt sophomore Jalin Marshall would be the likely candidate to start. While Marshall had challenging moments during the 2014 season, Marshall also had moments in 2014 that showed why the 2015 season is so eagerly anticipated by Buckeye fans.
Dontre Wilson also had challenging moments at the H-Back position in 2014. In the season opener at Navy, Wilson struggled with blocking assignments. At Michigan State, Wilson had some fumbles and drops, but came up with a big touchdown reception to help seal the victory against the Spartans. The H-Back position allows Wilson an opportunity to get to the perimeter and use his speed and quickness, yet Wilson’s lack of size almost eliminates him from being able to run the ball in the middle of the field effectively. Look for Ohio State’s coaches to take their time with getting Wilson back onto the field this spring, as they will certainly want to have Wilson back at full strength and speed for the fall campaign.
While not listed at either running back or H-Back, I have a suspicion that redshirt freshman Parris Campbell may get some opportunities this spring at the H-Back position. Campbell was a high school running back who was moved to wide receiver. Blessed with blazing speed, and running back experience, Campbell is certainly worth looking into as an H-Back this spring.
The question that others have asked - could Braxton Miller be moved from quarterback to H-Back if Miller does not win the starting quarterback position?
Ohio State is blessed to have so much talent on hand at both the running back and H-Back position groups. The challenge for Coach Meyer, and his offensive coaching staff, will be figuring out how to get as many of these talented players on the field and involved enough to keep everyone satisfied.