Ohio State Buckeyes: Running back depth takes hit with major injury

COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s thin backfield lost some potential depth this week with the loss of Evan Pryor.

The Dayton Daily News confirmed rivals.com’s report the second-year running back from North Carolina suffered a major knee injury and is expected to miss the 2022 season.

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Ohio State entered the preseason with four scholarship running backs, a result of Steele Chambers moving to linebacker last year and Marcus Crowley medically retiring because of multiple knee injuries.

True sophomore TreVeyon Henderson and third-year sophomore Miyan Williams combined for 254 carries and 1,756 yards last season, and that duo was already set to carry a heavy load again this fall.

But Pryor said he harbored hopes of earning a regular role, and running backs coach Tony Alford said last week he hoped to have a quandary when it comes to divvying up playing time.

“Quite frankly, I hope there’s not a whole lot of separation,” Alford said. “It means we’ve got some really good guys and not one guy is so (head and shoulders) above someone else. You’d like to have an opportunity to have three or four guys that you can throw in and feel comfortable throwing them in the fire.”

Aside from Henderson and Williams, the only other scholarship running back on the roster is Dallan Haden, a true freshman from Memphis, Tenn.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Monday that Haden had some moments in the Buckeyes’ first big scrimmage of the preseason Saturday, but he still figured to be far from breaking into the rotation this season given the competition.

“Dallan goes 100 miles an hour, so the biggest thing we’ve got to figure out is to get him to kind of slow down and take a deep breath,” Alford said last week. “He’s very hard on himself. He’s the guy that you can tell he wants to do things perfectly, and that bothers him immensely if he doesn’t. He’s going to be a really good player.”

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Heading into the season, running back was one of the two or three positions Ohio State could least afford to lose anyone along with offensive tackle and cornerback.

Henderson and Williams should form a dynamic duo — arguably the best in the nation — but the specter of another major injury to a back could hang over the whole season from this point on.

Ohio State has three walk-on running backs on the roster —true freshmen Chase Brecht of Powell Olentangy Liberty and TC Caffey of Hubbard along with redshirt freshman Cayden Saunders of Northville, Mich.

The 5-9, 190-pound Saunders, who is the son of former Ohio State tight end Cedric Saunders, ran for 32 yards in the spring game.

Chambers has settled in as a likely starter at linebacker, so his return to running back seems very unlikely, but there figure to be other options in case of emergency.

Xavier Johnson, a fifth-year senior who walked on from Cincinnati Summit Country Day, plays receiver now but spent much of the early part of his career at running back, and Alford expressed confidence he would be open to a return to the position if asked.

Chip Trayanum is learning the linebacker position at Ohio State, but he was a four-star running back recruit coming out of Akron Hoban in 2020 and ran for 692 yards at Arizona State before transferring to OSU in January.

Reinvigorating the running game has been a focus of the offseason.

The 2021 rush attack was explosive but inconsistent, particularly late in the season when head coach Ryan Day seemed to lose confidence in the group and heaped more of the offensive load on emerging star quarterback C.J. Stroud and a talented receiving corps.

“To win those championships, we’re gonna have to close out some games when everybody knows we’re running it,” Wilson said Monday before news of the Pryor injury broke. “I know Ryan will have a safe pass or something to keep them honest, but we got to run it and get the first down. And that’s what those great offenses that we talked about earlier are gonna do or not do. That’s when we’ll see if we’re a good offense or not.”

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