- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.
Who's back: The Buckeyes were never truly at full strength in the backfield last fall thanks to season-long injury concerns for Jordan Hall and a brief stint on the shelf for Carlos Hyde, though the offense hardly missed a beat with a high-powered rushing attack that ranked among the best in the country. Braxton Miller was a big part of that equation, but after Hyde came back from his minor knee issue, he developed into the perfect complement for the elusive quarterback by plowing through tacklers with his size and racking up extra yardage with his deceptive speed. Both Hyde and Hall are back at the top of the depth chart, joined by talented but inconsistent backup Rod Smith, rising sophomore Bri'onte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball to form a deep pool of options for the spread attack.
New face: The Buckeyes won't have fresh bodies to add to the mix in time for spring practice, but two ESPN 150 selection -- tailback Ezekiel Elliott and dynamic athlete Dontre Wilson -- will give them even more flexibility heading into the fall.
Projected spring depth chart: Hyde established himself as the top threat at running back, and he'll have the edge over Hall. Smith should lead the charge behind those two, with Dunn pushing for touches and Ball looking for a chance to impress after a foot injury forced him to sit out last season.
Numbers game: Every player who carried the football on the way to a perfect record returns except two -- one of them switched to linebacker in the middle of the season, the other was a punter. No offense to Zach Boren and Ben Buchanan, but the rushing attack is going to be just fine without them. The Buckeyes certainly won't be short on experience with a combined 547 carries from last season alone coming back to rush behind an offensive line that returns four starters, putting them in position to climb even higher in the national rankings after finishing No. 10 in rushing offense in 2012.
One to watch: There will be lots of eyes on Hall to see how he'll respond to the injuries that ruined his planned senior season, and if his burst and agility is back to the level that made him the projected starter coming out of spring a year ago, the Buckeyes will be looking for ways to get the football in his hands. But the spring dates could be even more critical for Smith, who showed how dangerous he can be when given opportunities by averaging nearly 7 yards per carry with a long of 33 in his limited work as a sophomore. He also provided a couple of reminders why those chances aren't coming regularly when he coughed up a couple fumbles. Ball security remains the biggest issue with Smith, and shoring that up will be imperative as the Buckeyes continue to search for, identify and develop playmakers on offense.
He said it: "I tell my running backs every year before we go out in spring recruiting: I am getting ready to go try to out-recruit this room. They look at me, I don’t know if they really believe that, but I am dead serious when we tell these kids that. We are trying to outrecruit our current football players. In their mind, they’re like, ‘No, you’re not, I’m about to go prove to you that you can’t.’ The guys coming in are like, ‘Well, I have an opportunity to go get it.’ That makes it the whole entire team better, and at the end of the day we’re all fighting for the same thing." -- running backs coach Stan Drayton
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice.