Ohio State Buckeyes: Running back competition could get wild this spring

Six scholarship backs should be on campus

While the Ohio State quarterback derby figures to get the most attention this spring and summer, it won’t be the only position battle in Columbus.

It might not be the wildest, either.

That could be the competition to be the guy who lines up next to the quarterback on most plays.

“Running back” has been defined a few different ways at Ohio State over the years.

First there were single-wing halfbacks such as Chic Harley, Les Horvath and Vic Janowicz.

Tailbacks such as Archie Griffin, Keith Byars, Eddie George and Maurice Clarett took center stage from the ’70s through the early 2000s, and in between fullbacks such as Troy’s Bob Ferguson and Jim Otis of Celina were often the headline-players of Woody Hayes’ offense.

Since the move to the spread offense under Urban Meyer in 2012, running back has remained a major aspect of the offense even as quarterbacks have become the focal point of the attack.

First there was Carlos Hyde, then Ezekiel Elliott, Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins.

Master Teague started the 2020 season on top of the depth chart, but Trey Sermon stole the show late in the year with a record-breaking performance in the Big Ten championship game and another stellar showing in the Sugar Bowl win over Clemson.

So, who’s next with Sermon off to the NFL?

The battle could be even more interesting than the competition at quarterback because fans likely will get to watch more than one contribute throughout the course of the season and there are as many as six or seven players who could make the case they deserve carries.

Teague is back for a fourth year on campus, and he could be in his best form yet after having to recover from a leg injury last year.

He’s likely to be challenged by Miyan Williams, who showed some shiftiness and power in limited opportunities as a true freshman last season.

Marcus Crowley, who was also less than 100 percent last year because of a knee injury, and Steele Chambers will also be in the mix along with Xavier Johnson, a walk-on from Cincinnati who has been receiving praise from the coaching staff for more than a year.

“What a great opportunity this spring to have these guys go compete,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said last week. “We’re going to try to do the best we can to simulate games as much as possible in the spring to get a feel for what these guys are.”

But what if the best player turns out to be a true freshman?

TreVeyon Henderson, a five-star prospect from Virginia, will be the most talented runner in the room according to 247Sports Composite rankings.

He’ll be joined by classmate Evan Pryor, a four-star prospect from North Carolina, to give coach Tony Alford plenty to think about when he is deciding how to divvy up carries.

Asked what he’ll be looking for in choosing a No. 1 back, Day started with one non-negotiable.

“If you cannot hold on to the football, you can’t play running back here at Ohio State,” Day said. “That’s the No. 1 thing, but then after that it’s versatility.”

And how is versatility defined?

An Ohio State running back is expected to be reliable as a blocker and a pass catcher, and Day wants him to be comfortable in any kind of run scheme.

That means being able to hit the hole behind down blocks and pulling linemen in a “gap scheme” or reading the hole and cutting through a crease created by zone blocking.

“And then how do you finish the runs?” Day said. “At first contact, are you finishing those runs and turning two (yards) into three and then three into four? That’s really important. And then the last part is can you hit the home run? Can you get to the second level, make a safety miss and turn a gain of 15 into a home run? So I think all those things are in consideration when you’re looking for great backs.”

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