Opportunity awaits in Ohio State backfield

July, 30, 2013
7/30/13
11:04
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The circumstances clearly aren't the same, but the situation is pretty much identical.

Ohio State reported to training camp a year ago with its starting running back on the shelf and unavailable for at least the first two weeks of the season, putting the spotlight on the backup and casting at least a little doubt about how the rushing attack would survive until Jordan Hall returned.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesCarlos Hyde dove through the door that opened after Jordan Hall's injury. Will another player do the same during Hyde's suspension?
Carlos Hyde walked through the open door then and made the position his own. One summer later, with a minimum suspension of three games ahead of him, Hyde has cracked it open for somebody else.

The senior's case was officially closed Tuesday by Columbus police after an investigation into an alleged assault didn't produce any charges against him, but Meyer had the final word when it came to playing time. He promptly took that away for "conduct not representative" of Ohio State. And while his breakout season a year ago and his unique combination of size and speed makes it unlikely that his starting spot will be spoken for when his punishment ends, Hyde should know all too well what can happen when an unexpected opportunity pops up.

Hall's freak foot injury in the offseason gave Hyde his first platform for extended work when the season opened. And while the projected starter actually reclaimed that job briefly before another health issue ended Hall's season, Hyde had already made enough of an impression to push for an expanded role thanks to his nonconference audition.

Now it's Rod Smith's turn to do the same thing.

There's no question the junior has the same type of athleticism and the ability to deliver a blow to would-be tacklers at 238 pounds. He has already flashed his enormous potential in a live setting under Meyer by averaging a robust 6.7 yards per carry in a reserve role last year. Smith's biggest weakness has been an inability to protect the football, but if the fumbles disappear while getting what should be steady work during the first couple weeks of the season, he might find himself in a similar situation as Hyde a year ago.

Smith isn't alone, of course. The Buckeyes are overflowing with talented options in the backfield, and sophomore Bri'onte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball both impressed the coaching staff enough during spring practice to make it worthwhile to include a diamond formation with three running backs on the field at once in the playbook. What once might have been a battle for scraps might suddenly turn into meaningful work as they slide a spot up the depth chart in September.

In addition to highly touted freshmen such as Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson, Hall is also coming back for another season after taking a medical redshirt last fall.

Hall was already being tabbed for a critical role for the Buckeyes in the H-back position as a hybrid rusher/receiver, but he could wind up doing more of the latter than the former with Hyde out.

Even with Hyde out of the picture, there are more than enough options on hand to help navigate a stretch after the opener against Buffalo that could be tougher than expected with San Diego State visiting the Horseshoe before the Buckeyes travel across the country to take on California.

But Meyer sent a message to his program by taking away a sizable portion of Hyde's final season with the program. And if Smith or another current backup takes a page out of his book, Hyde might also end up losing some of the work he was expecting even after he returns.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter

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