Ohio State Buckeyes: Stan Drayton

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Stan Drayton isn’t picky about how the job gets done.

The Ohio State running backs coach doesn’t need his next starter to have all the same physical qualities Carlos Hyde brought to the backfield. Drayton doesn’t even care if he needs more than one guy to fill the void Hyde left behind after his final season with the Buckeyes, and he’s not in a hurry to settle on a depth chart or figure out how to distribute carries.

In terms of fitting some sort of ideal mold for a tailback, Drayton has no preference as he sorts through a handful of options with different sizes and strengths. As for the details of how to match Hyde’s wildly productive, staggeringly efficient work on the ground, it doesn’t appear to make any difference to Drayton whether it takes one guy or five, as long as the results are the same.

[+] EnlargeBri'onte Dunn
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsBri'onte Dunn, a four-star recruit in the 2012 class, redshirted last season and is squarely in the mix for playing time.
“He has to be replaced,” Drayton said. “This is The Ohio State University, and it’s the next man up. I’m sure if you asked Carlos Hyde, he’d tell you the same thing. It’s the next man up.

“Somebody has to step up and fill the shoes of Carlos Hyde. If it takes more than one guy to do that, I promise you it’s going to get done.”

The Buckeyes certainly weren’t a one-man show on the ground last year, and no matter what happens at running back this spring, they still won’t be in the fall with Braxton Miller and his talented legs returning at quarterback.

But Hyde was far and away the main focus at tailback last season, accounting for more rushing attempts than the rest of Ohio State’s stable of running backs combined despite missing three games to suspension. And now that he’s gone, those 208 carries he had as a senior will have to go somewhere, and the race is already heated as the new candidates scramble to claim them.

Rising sophomore Ezekiel Elliott appears to be first in line after shining in a limited role a season ago, averaging 8.1 yards per carry while showing off his explosive speed and the ability to absorb or inflict punishment with his 225-pound frame.

Rising senior Rod Smith isn’t far behind and is doing everything he can to finally turn his natural talent into production before it’s too late. Sophomore Bri’onte Dunn is coming off a somewhat unexpected redshirt season during his second year at Ohio State and is impressing with his improved grasp of the offense. Warren Ball and early enrollee Curtis Samuel both are squarely in the battle for playing time as well, with the latter turning heads during offseason workouts and potentially becoming an option to play a hybrid role as a rusher and receiver when he gets completely healthy.

So even if the Buckeyes can’t settle on just one guy to fill Hyde’s shoes, they’re clearly not short of options.

“It’s real competitive, and coach Drayton really has us going,” Dunn said. “Everybody wants to play for Ohio State, so we’ll go as hard as we can.

“Carlos was like a big brother to me. He taught me a lot, and by his example last year, it just taught us all a lot. ... Everybody is just going hard and trying to go for the spot. Our mindset is to be the best back in the country.”

Hyde made his case last season, finishing with 1,521 yards, 15 touchdowns and a resume that might make him the first running back selected in the upcoming NFL draft.

But Drayton doesn’t necessarily need one candidate to emerge as the best individual rusher in the country to get what he’s looking for this spring. The only thing that really matters to him is making sure Ohio State has the best backfield, any way he can get it.

“I’m always going to operate under the notion I need at least three [guys],” Drayton said. “I need at least three, and there’s five of them.

“All those guys are in the mix. They’re so competitive, they all bring something different to the table, they all have a different style, different strengths and weaknesses and they can all help this football team. ... I just prefer a guy who is going to be productive, period.”

Drayton might not be picky about how the production comes. But there’s no flexibility about making sure the Buckeyes get it one way or another.

Big Ten makes progress in diversity

February, 24, 2014
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The Big Ten likes to consider itself a leader on many fronts in college sports. Several Big Ten schools were among the first to integrate their football programs, and the first two African-American head football coaches in a major conference called the league home.

But for much of this century, when it came to football coaching diversity, the Big Ten lagged behind the rest of the nation.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/Eric Christian SmithPenn State's decision to hire James Franklin as its first African-American head football coach can't be underestimated.
After the third African-American head coach in league history -- Michigan State's Bobby Williams -- was fired late in the 2002 season, the conference went a decade without another black head football coach. The Big Ten was the only one of the six BCS AQ conferences that did not have at least one African-American head coach during that span; the SEC, by contrast, had four in the same time frame.

Thankfully, things have begun to improve. Two of the last three head coaches hired in the Big Ten -- Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Penn State's James Franklin -- are African-American.

"That's great news, to have that diversity," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Now we just need to give them time and let them be successful where they are and develop their programs. I'm glad there is progress, and we need to continue to do more across the country."

There weren't a lot of opportunities, period, for head coaching jobs in the Big Ten during the recent diversity drought, as schools like Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State and Ohio State remained mostly stable at the top. But coaching turnover has increased in the league in the past few years; Penn State, for instance, just hired its second coach in three years after going nearly a half-century without a transition.

Was improving diversity a league-wide priority? Conference officials say no.

"What our schools try to do is hire the best coaches in their pool," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "We've had plenty of African-American basketball coaches.

"It's more about a commitment to opportunity and a fair process, and as long as our people are hiring the best people in processes that are open, you would hope and think that it would be sort of a broad representation of people. Whether you hire James Franklin or a new coach at any place, I'm not sure race should be the factor. Certainly people wouldn't want it to be a factor. It's really an outcome."

Still, it's hard not to note the importance of Penn State hiring its first African-American head football coach. More so than Dennis Green or Francis Peay at Northwestern or even Williams at Michigan State, Franklin is leading a flagship, blue-blood program. The timing was fortuitous, as the Pennsylvania native was ready for a new challenge after proving himself at Vanderbilt and the Nittany Lions needed a dynamic new leader.

“It’s a lot of significance," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "We hired James because of the kind of person and coach he is. The fact he’s African American is great. It’s a great testimony to opportunity. A hundred years ago, that wouldn’t have happened in this country."

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Ting Shen/Triple Play New MediaBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the hiring process should be fair and a commitment to opportunity for all coaches.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports hasn't yet released its annual hiring report card for college football. But Richard Lapchick, the center's director, said the Big Ten's recent moves are "definitely a sign of progress." While there are only 11 FBS black head coaches heading into the 2014 season, it's noteworthy that minorities have gotten opportunities to lead storied programs like Penn State and Texas (Charlie Strong), Lapchick said.

"That's critically important," he said. "Historically, the opportunities in general that have gone to African-American coaches have been at programs that have been really down, and the opportunities to turn them around have been very problematic. Let's hope [Hazell and Franklin] are successful, because they will help create more opportunities for other African-American and Latino coaches in FBS conferences."

The next step for the Big Ten is to continue to develop and identify the next wave of minority head coaching candidates. Both Franklin and Hazell, who led Kent State for two seasons before Purdue hired him, had already established themselves as winning head coaches elsewhere, though Hazell was also a well-regarded assistant at Ohio State. The Big Ten sent several African-American assistant coaches to the annual minority coaches' forum between 2006 and 2010, and some athletic directors see it as their job to mentor young black coaches.

Smith saw Everett Withers leave the Buckeyes staff this winter to land the James Madison head coaching job and said he is spending time this offseason with running backs coach Stan Drayton to get Drayton accustomed to non-football issues like university budgets and policies.

"We want to have guys who are trained to hopefully win in the interview process," Smith said. "Sometimes, those are beauty contests. You've got to be able to answer the questions the right way and demonstrate an ability to lead."

That's the ultimate goal, to have more minority candidates who are ready when those opportunities do arise. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said that wasn't the case a few years ago, but the pool of potential coaches is increasing.

"We’re starting to see more and more diversity among the coaching staffs and up-and-coming diverse candidates in all various positions in the sport," Brandon said. "Now, we're seeing more representation at the head coaching level. That was bound to happen and important to have happen, and I'm glad to see that trend evolve."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always chasing the sizzle. What the Ohio State coach needed more than anything this time, though, was some steak.

Like usual, Meyer had skill players with speed in his recruiting class, a prerequisite for his spread offense and perhaps the type of target he annually covets above all else. But on the heels of a class that was light on linemen and with four senior starters walking out the door after last season, Meyer had no choice but to load up on big guys with his third class since taking over the Buckeyes.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer and Braxton Miller
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesWith four senior starters on the O-line leaving, Urban Meyer knew he had to sign some linemen to help protect Braxton Miller.
And he did exactly that, signing more offensive linemen than any other position. When all the paperwork was filed on Wednesday, Meyer had a group that might not be as flashy as the burners on the perimeter but ultimately figures to be the foundation for Ohio State’s future.

“Last year was a [recruiting] disappointment in the offensive line,” Meyer said. “I’d say two of the five this year have to be in the depth, and we recruited as such.

“Typically you don’t put freshmen in there early, but these guys have got mature bodies and they’re fairly mature men.”

Certainly the newcomers aren’t as physically developed as the veterans who just graduated, and obviously they don’t have anywhere near the experience competing at the Big Ten level. But based on the numbers and the talent on hand, the Buckeyes may have no choice but to plug a couple true freshmen at least into the two-deep depth chart as they rebuild the unit almost from scratch.

Taylor Decker is the lone holdover, and Meyer confirmed that the junior is set to move from right tackle to left as part of the transition. Pat Elflein handled himself well at guard in place of Marcus Hall late in the season, and he’s a safe bet to lock down another starting job. Jacoby Boren has played in reserve and impressed on the practice field, and he will move into the lineup at center. The rest of the rotation is currently written in pencil, which if nothing else at least leaves the possibility open that a fresh face could make a push for playing time.

With such precious cargo at quarterback, though, the Buckeyes would surely prefer to plug in a player who has at least been through a season with the program to help protect Braxton Miller. Their options, however, are somewhat limited after signing just two linemen a year ago, losing one of them before the season and ultimately moving a defender to the other side of the ball to help make up for it.

“I think last year’s smallness in numbers certainly led to an increased urgency to have to go sign those guys,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “But with last year, at Ohio State we’re not just going to sign a guy just to fill a spot. If we don’t think he can help us win a national championship, we’re not going to sign him. Those guys weren’t out there towards the end of recruiting last year, so that put us in a dire need of urgency this year.

“Really the entire staff did a great job coming through with five offensive linemen, and all five of them, none of them are guys who you would think would be reaches at Ohio State.”

Out of that bunch that earned their offers, Jamarco Jones had his name pop up most frequently as a crucial signee and possible option to lend a hand early, with Demetrius Knox not far behind him. Brady Taylor, a late flip from Virginia Tech, caught Meyer’s eye as well after getting up to 295 pounds and could emerge as a guy he said “could sneak in the depth fairly quickly.”

On top of that, the Buckeyes also have a pair of true freshmen linemen already on campus in Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, potentially giving them a chance to acclimate quickly and make an impression during spring practice as the Buckeyes sort through the candidates on hand. But even if none of them wind up as regulars by the end of the season, the day surely isn’t all that far off when all those speed-burners Meyer is stockpiling are counting on the latest group of beefy blockers to give them room to work.

“Our toys are very useless,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said, “until we take care of that front.”

Carlos Hyde benefits from scout work

October, 18, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The normal, gaping holes were nowhere to be found.

Across the line of scrimmage, a group of guys who might never see the field had been replaced by a defensive unit that has proven to be one of the best at stuffing the rush in the nation.

And instead of executing out of the Ohio State playbook, the job during the week was instead to provide a look at what the opponents did on the ground instead of doing what had become so familiar for nearly two years.

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCarlos Hyde picked up a different perspective during his suspension, playing on the scout team.
But rather than drop his head or mail in the effort while serving his three-game suspension last month on the scout team, Carlos Hyde instead tried to turn that rare look at how the other half of the roster lives into a benefit for his own game. Based on the early returns since his punishment ended, the senior might have come out of it even more deadly on the ground than before.

“It was our scout-team offensive line going against the [starting] defensive line, and those guys aren’t easy to block,” Hyde said. “So you’ve got to make something happen. That kind of helped me out with getting in the open field, making moves on guys, because that’s the only thing you can do over there.

“I’m not trying to run my teammates over; I’m trying to make a move and make a guy miss and get up the field. That kind of helped me out, bringing that over to our offense.”

The Buckeyes obviously would have preferred to have Hyde in the offensive fold all along this season, though his role in an off-the-field incident in July kept him out of the picture for effectively all of the nonconference action.

Hyde was never charged with a crime, but coach Urban Meyer issued his own disciplinary sentence anyway and made it clear there would be standards the leading scorer from last season would have to meet before he could return to the team -- let alone the starting lineup.

Along the way, Hyde searched for ways to make both himself and his teammates better on the field even when he couldn’t play on the weekend. He was far away from the spotlight, forced to go back to doing the thankless work a first-teamer could conceivably take for granted.

“I wish I could raise every back that way,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “I wish I could send every back down to the scout team for a few weeks because the positives of it are, No. 1, you're going to play through contact, for sure. You're playing against a younger offensive line and you're not getting the movement that [a running back is used to].

“Things are not very clean, so now you're forced to really enhance the skill set of playing on contact, playing through contact, spinning off of things, staying true to your footwork and your landmark. ... Being a starting tailback a year ago and having to play a backup role and a service role to this football team made him extremely hungry.”

The Buckeyes are keeping him well fed now, and they aren’t likely to slow down as long as Hyde maintains an appetite.

In two critical Big Ten games since his season debut in a cameo against Florida A&M, Ohio State has handed Hyde the ball 43 times for 253 yards and he’s picked up right where he left off as a touchdown machine, banging in three of them in a tight win over Northwestern.

Figuring out exactly how many of the career-high 168 yards against the Wildcats to attribute to his work on the scout team is impossible to do, and that stint didn’t come without its share of negatives, either.

Hyde had to make a transition back to the standard playbook and get used to playing behind a veteran offensive line again. Judging by the tears he shed after the Northwestern victory while recounting how he let down the Buckeyes over the summer, there were some emotions to deal with on the road back to the lineup as well.

But particularly on the field in a different role thanks to the punishment, Hyde appears to have made the most of the lesson.

“I think, mentally, it was an unbelievable advantage for him,” Drayton said. “It made him not take for granted the opportunities that he has in front of him.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The first test wasn't aced, but Jordan Hall certainly passed it with relative ease.

The fifth-year senior shook off the rust from his injury-plagued season a year ago and again looked comfortable, confident and healthy with the football in his hands. He also appeared to be more than just a stand-in with Ohio State's projected starter at running back and the top backup on the shelf, turning in the finest rushing performance of his career. And if there was any doubt about his ability to handle a full-time load and work between the tackles, the durability he showed while playing a complete game in searing heat while dashing for a pair of long touchdowns up the middle of the field erased those fears.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hall
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteJordan Hall broke two long runs and showed his versatility against Buffalo.
Officially the grade from the coaching staff was 81 percent, and that number is a more legitimate evaluation of how the Buckeyes rated his production than the 159 yards or two scores he provided on 21 carries. And for now, it will keep him at the head of the class as the stakes go up and No. 3 Ohio State starts adding some missing pieces back to its rushing attack.

"I’ve got a lot to get better at," Hall said. "There were a couple good runs, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do personally.

"This is what I’ve been doing is playing football, so it feels natural to me for me to be back there. But it was fun to be back out there with the team again."

Rod Smith hasn't been gone as long as Hall, but he'll be the first of Ohio State's two tailbacks to return to the fold and perhaps shake up the rotation as the game plan for Saturday's home date with San Diego State is installed this week.

Smith missed the opener due to a suspension for a violation of team rules earlier this year, missing out on what could have been a prime opportunity to show he's ready for an expanded role after playing infrequently in support of Carlos Hyde last season. Instead it was Hall shifting from his expected role as a hybrid weapon at the H-back position, shining in the backfield and giving Ohio State something else to think about as its options expand.

Hyde will have to sit two more weeks before he can rejoin the rotation as he serves his three-game suspension for an off-field incident in July. But as Smith might find out on the practice field this week, the Buckeyes don't appear to be in a hurry to remove Hall from the equation given his strong debut against Buffalo.

"What they do is they have to come in and earn the position back," running backs coach Stan Drayton said. "Nothing is given to those guys. We have a philosophy that if you want to play your respective position, you have to provide some value to this team on special teams -- that is truly the philosophy here.

"So, if Carlos Hyde gets reinstated and he can add some value to our special teams, then great. We'll sit there and we'll take a good look at where he stands in that running back group. ... With the addition of Rod Smith coming back, it doesn't necessarily mean that Jordan Hall's role gets lesser. No, it just may be distributed a little bit differently throughout the scheme."

Hall's ability to move around the formation and fill a dual-threat role as a receiver and rusher obviously adds flexibility to the scheme. It isn't, however, the only variable Drayton and the coaching staff will have to sort out.

Smith is a more physical presence, capable of breaking tackles at the second level and moving the line of scrimmage in short-yardage situations, which isn't a strong suit for Hall. The Buckeyes also still have true freshmen Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott pushing for touches along with redshirt freshman Warren Ball, all of whom saw action against Buffalo and bring something to the table.

Eventually the picture should come into clearer focus in the backfield, even though squeezing a couple more talented, big-bodied running backs might make it hard for everybody to stay in the frame. But for now, Hall is right in the middle and smiling brightly.

"There are running backs that didn’t get on the field, but coach Drayton is straight down the middle with us if there’s something you’re not doing," Hall said. "It’s competition in the room, we’re all tight, but we know when we step on the field, you’ve got to make plays and make stuff happen.

"So, I’m just going to go to whatever position they put me at and try to make plays."

Based on the early grades, nobody on offense made more than Hall on the first test. The next assignment is measuring himself against the new students.

H-back key as OSU offense evolves

August, 27, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Perhaps lost in the hoopla before the arrival of Urban Meyer’s spread offense at Ohio State, then overlooked when the scoreboard started lighting up on the way to a perfect record, was a secret about the vaunted attack.

The passing game improved dramatically, but it wasn’t a consistent threat vertically or able to generate as many backbreaking plays as planned.

The Buckeyes were one of the most successful rushing teams in the nation, but they really didn’t rely much on the kind of read plays Meyer has been known for and could occasionally be slowed by defenses loading up near the line of scrimmage.

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Ohio State AthleticsClass of 2013 ESPN 300 athlete Dontre Wilson could make a big impact for the Buckeyes as a multipurpose playmaker.
Perhaps most important, there wasn’t a guy on the roster truly capable of lending a hand in both of those areas and giving Ohio State the explosive, multipurpose weapon the likes of which Meyer famously had at Florida.

And without somebody like Percy Harvin to line up all over the field to drive opposing coordinators crazy or a blindingly fast runner with the hands of a receiver to torment defenders, there was an entire element of the system missing a year ago.

The dirty, little secret? Without being able to feature anybody in the hybrid, H-back position, the spread as Meyer has known it almost didn’t exist at all last season.

“If you evaluate last year’s offense, we were a pro offense,” Meyer said. “There was not a lot of read components. The whole equation where there’s one extra guy in the box, read one -- whether it’s second level, first level, which is kind of the essence of what spread football is -- really didn’t exist for us.

“You’ll see a different style of offense this year.”

There are any number of factors involved with the evolution of Meyer’s offense with the Buckeyes heading into his second season with the program, and likewise simply trusting a player with the various responsibilities of the H-back isn’t enough to completely alter the approach by itself.

More development of the receivers and the offensive line, a deeper stable of running backs and the marked improvement as a passer by quarterback Braxton Miller all will play a hand in turning Ohio State into a unit that more neatly fits the definition of a spread offense. But there might not be a spot that highlights the difference from a year ago to what the Buckeyes will unveil Saturday against Buffalo better than H-back. There might not be a Harvin, but there are at least a couple of options on hand now capable of filling those shoes.

Jordan Hall was expected to do it a year ago before a series of injuries forced him to redshirt, and his elusiveness with the football and soft hands again make him an intriguing candidate when he’s not starting at running back. But it’s freshman Dontre Wilson who may actually be the final piece of the spread puzzle with his track-star speed and a set of skills that allow him to be deployed all over the field, potentially giving Meyer and his offensive staff a chance to put a few more chapters back in the playbook after editing them out a year ago.

“It’s just playmaker ability [at H-back],” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “You have to be able to play in space, you have to be able to catch the ball, you have to be able to run the ball.

“It’s a unique skill set that is required at that position, and we feel like we’ve got three or four guys right now that provide that mindset and skill set we’re looking for.”

The Buckeyes surely would have settled for one last season, though they ultimately didn’t need anybody in that role on the way to leading the Big Ten in scoring.

Now with Hall, Wilson and maybe another newcomer like Jalin Marshall, Ohio State has quickly stocked up on guys suited for the sideline-to-sideline game and capable of providing the big-play ability as both a rusher and receiver that was largely absent a year ago. And plugging at least one of those options into the rotation could change the entire complexion of the offense around them.

“We led the Big Ten in scoring, but it’s not to our standard, that’s not what we were expecting,” Meyer said. “The theory, what is a spread offense? It has a read component, and you force a defense to defend 53S yards. The Ohio State Buckeyes did not do that a year ago. Didn’t have to defend it.

“It’s all speed. That’s creating space and guys in space doing things with the ball, and I’m seeing more of that.”

It will all be on public display soon enough. But at this point, it’s no secret that the Buckeyes are much closer to what Meyer envisions from his offense than they were a year ago.

They might only need one position to prove it.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The medical redshirt already assured a do-over of Jordan Hall’s final season with the Ohio State program.

Now it appears he’ll get a mulligan at the starting position that a pair of injuries cost the veteran a year ago.

After watching Carlos Hyde cement himself as the leading option in the backfield while he was on the shelf, then spending spring practice largely focusing on learning the playbook at the hybrid H-back position and working out with receivers, reclaiming the job that was once expected to be Hall’s never looked like much of an option.

But here he is now, once again listed as a senior and apparently on top of the depth chart at running back as well.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hall
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesHealthy again, RB Jordan Hall is giving Ohio State options within its offense.
“I’ll play anywhere they put me, because I just want to be on the field and help us win,” Hall said. “It doesn’t matter. Anywhere they put me, I’ll be ready.”

The Buckeyes always had designs on putting Hall in the backfield at least part of the time again as he cross-trained between running back and the versatile H-back spot that requires more work in the passing game. But for the second summer in a row, the early-season plan may have required a bit of flexibility.

Last summer it was Hall’s fluky injury when he stepped on a piece of glass and needed surgery to repair a torn tendon, leaving him on the sideline during training camp and the first two games while Hyde slid into the vacant first-team spot. Hall briefly returned to the lineup before a knee issue knocked him out for the rest of the season, ultimately allowing Hyde to prove he could thrive as an every-down back and form a lethal combination with quarterback Braxton Miller on the ground.

This summer it’s Hyde’s offseason incident at a Columbus bar and a minimum suspension of three games that has shaken up the expected pecking order. And while the Buckeyes have no shortage of talented tailbacks capable of picking up the slack at one of the deepest positions on the roster, at least for now they appear willing to turn back the clock and give a healthy Hall the shot he never really had last year.

“Jordan Hall is a guy who has had some playing experience and been through some adversity, obviously, but he does have some game experience,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “You’ve got Rod Smith who is in that group, those two would be at the early part of the season kind of taking the bull by the horns. But for that first game, probably Jordan Hall.

“Going into this first game, I’d say he’s probably the No. 1 guy right now.”

That list is always subject to change, particularly at a position as loaded as running back.

Smith figures to get plenty of touches over the first few weeks given his impressive set of skills and dynamic athleticism. Bri’onte Dunn got his feet wet last season and has shown flashes of being a steady contributor in the backfield, and both redshirt freshman Warren Ball and newcomer Ezekiel Elliott have impressed during training camp. Ultimately Hyde will be back on the field as well, and his production in the spread offense is well documented.

But the rise of those rushers wouldn’t necessarily be a threat to Hall, who Drayton indicated was tabbed all along to spend time in his meeting room and will continue to work at both positions throughout the season even if he does emerge as the weapon at H-back Ohio State has been waiting for.

And Hall won’t complain either way as he tries to make the most of a second chance at a senior season, regardless of where he lines up.

“I’ve seen how fast it can be taken away,” Hall said. “So I’m not going to take any plays off, any reps off.”

All the Buckeyes have to do is tell him where to take them.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Observations and notes from a brief glimpse at the Ohio State freshmen during a split-squad practice that opened training camp on Sunday morning:

Meyer locked in

The Buckeyes coach made clear he was ready to turn the page from all the offseason chatter and get back to focusing on football, and he obviously enjoyed being on the field and working with his players.

Urban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer was energetic in working with the Ohio State newcomers in the first practice of training camp.
From the start, Meyer was energetic and engaged frequently with the young players he was finally getting to coach for the first time. And if for some reason the newcomers weren't aware of the high expectations and the standards for a program that will enter the season ranked second in the nation, Meyer called a pair of huddles in the first 20 minutes of the workout to impress upon them what he's looking for and expects in the buildup to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

The message was hard to ignore, and Meyer certainly had been impatiently waiting to deliver it.

Speed it up

The periods open for media viewing didn't provide much of a look at the talented freshmen actually playing football, and because they were limited to just helmets and no pads as well, there's only so much that could be gleaned from their first morning on the practice fields at Ohio State.

But when they had a chance to dial it up and stretch their legs, the emphasis on acquiring more speed on signing day in February does appear to have paid off for the Buckeyes. Dontre Wilson seems to glide around and makes everything look smooth, and touted newcomers such as Vonn Bell, James Clark, Corey Smith and Gareon Conley all looked the part of burners capable of providing that upgrade Meyer and his staff were looking for on the recruiting trail.

They all still need to put pads on and compete against the veterans to show what they can truly do, but lack of speed shouldn't be an issue.

Special deliveries

Running backs coach Stan Drayton repeated himself over and over to drive home the point. Anybody looking to make an impact right away had better be ready to lend a hand in the kicking game.

"Fastest way you get on the field," Drayton said. "Special teams."

The Buckeyes give those units top priority and treat it as a responsibility earned instead of scraps for players not contributing on offense and defense. Drayton stressed that numerous times for anybody within earshot as the youngsters started practice. Ohio State appears to have already tabbed three guys as potential options to help out by getting their hands on the football, with Wilson, Clark and Jalin Marshall all taking turns simulating punt returns.

Missing in action

Donovan Munger wasn't on the field Sunday morning, and he might not be for a few more weeks as he apparently deals with an academic issue before he can report to the team. The Buckeyes still expect the 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive lineman to be part of the squad this season and he was listed on the latest roster, but he'll likely have some ground to make up and will be missing valuable reps that could have potentially helped him push for a spot in the rotation.

New punter Cameron Johnston also didn't practice with the morning bunch, with Ohio State instead opting to have him work with the veterans in the afternoon. The Australian is expected to slide into the starting spot right away after his signing this summer, and working later would give him a opportunity to build a rapport with the returning long-snappers.
Kerry Coombs coached Cincinnati Colerain to a state championship in 2004 and sent the Cardinals to four other state semifinal appearances during a 16-year career in which he compiled a 161-34 record. Coombs also coached under Brian Kelly and was part of three Cincinnati Bearcats teams that went 33-7 overall and played in two BCS bowl games.

Before starring at Ohio State and becoming a three-time Super Bowl champion, Mike Vrabel was a standout at Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Walsh Jesuit High School, which is just minutes from Akron.

Luke Fickell was a three-time state wrestling champion for Columbus DeSales, while Stan Drayton starred at Cleveland John Marshall in his playing days.

What does it all mean?

Hyde's maturation key for OSU

May, 9, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was a time when cutting Carlos Hyde some slack on the practice field would have been unthinkable, and it wasn’t all that long ago.

With the running back perhaps not in the finest shape and somewhat easily fatigued, Ohio State could use every rep available to it to try to get him ready for a heavy workload.

Maybe not the most mature guy on the roster, the Buckeyes also might have needed to keep him involved in the offense as much as possible just to keep his confidence at a reasonable level.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesBuckeyes RBs coach Stan Drayton said Carlos Hyde does indeed have a 'complacent bone' in his body, but the coach is happy to report it has been missing in action so far in 2013.
Even after a successful season as a junior, which included his first significant opportunity to be the featured tailback, there was also the threat of Hyde slipping back into a comfort zone and resting on his laurels.

Running backs coach Stan Drayton has been around long enough to know all those things about Hyde, and somewhere in the back of Drayton's mind they might have nagged at him a bit, as the Buckeyes decided to keep the starter largely on the sideline during live work this spring as they evaluated options behind him. But Drayton never wavered, Hyde never complained, and there might not be a clearer example of how far the senior’s reputation has come than how little management was necessary in a camp that was productive even when he didn’t have the football in his hands.

“You know, he does have a complacent bone in him,” Drayton said. “I cannot underestimate that, but I haven’t seen it in a long time. I’m hoping that it’s gone forever.

“I’ll tell you, he’s getting to the point where his psyche is not easily killed. At some point you have to sit down with a senior and have real man-to-man, face-to-face conversations about where you are and where you need to be. ... Maturity proves itself on how you go about improving those weaknesses, even when I’m not watching.”

The Buckeyes needed to devote more time to watching the backups than Hyde this spring, and in turn the veteran was forced to turn his attention to his younger teammates throughout workouts, effectively serving as a coach.

That Hyde could handle the responsibility of watching reps without taking many or that he would offer pointers to guys who could conceivably chip away at his carries reflects the increased faith the Buckeyes have in him. But that Hyde was also more than willing to take on that role reinforces some of the changes he has made heading into his last season with the program, validating himself as more than just an integral part of the rushing attack in the process.

“It’s just me getting older,” Hyde said during camp. “Last year kind of matured me, too, and I’m just getting older and learning the game better.

“I feel like mentally I’m still hungry. I feel like there’s still more to improve on, and I feel like people probably still have doubts about me and I want to prove those people wrong.”

There wasn’t much he needed to show on the field during spring practice after rushing for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns last fall, and the Buckeyes had no concerns about limiting him during some full-contact situations in workouts or holding him out entirely from the spring game.

That doesn’t mean Hyde is a finished product, and he’s the first to admit he can become a more elusive runner to break a few longer runs and that his pass protection can be improved as well. It also doesn’t mean Drayton stopped paying attention to Hyde's handling of his new responsibilities -- but there were at least some aspects of his game that no longer required as much monitoring.

“He wants to play, he wants to practice and I love him for that,” Drayton said. “He can be a pain in the butt out there, but I told him in our individual meeting, 'I didn’t know you had that in you.' I thought he hated practice. I thought he was one of those guys that kind of fatigued early.

“But now he’s got some endurance, he’s got some confidence about him and I was really excited to see how bad he really wanted to practice, play, the whole deal. ... I don’t want him to feel like he’s there, because he’s not there. But he’s definitely heading in the right direction.”

At this point in his career, Hyde didn’t even need a football to prove it.

Rising stock: Rod Smith

April, 25, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice in the books and Ohio State heading into its offseason conditioning program, BuckeyeNation is looking at the players who boosted their stock with the program the most during those 15 workouts. The offense will go first this week, followed by a handful of defenders who will be in line for heavy workloads this fall as well.

[+] EnlargeRod Smith
Jim Owens/Icon SMIRod Smith really stood out this spring in the race to become Carlos Hyde's primary backup.
No. 2: Rod Smith

  • Who: All the pieces are there for a dynamic running back, but Rod Smith has yet to ever put them all together and unleash all the potential that Ohio State has seen on the practice field. But heading into his junior season, Smith is finally showing signs of figuring out that puzzle and unlocking even more possibilities for the Buckeyes on offense. Carlos Hyde is still the top choice in the backfield, and that isn't likely to change as long as the senior is healthy. But if Smith rushes with the sense of urgency he showed before his spring ended prematurely, if he continues to absorb the responsibilities lined out for him in the playbook and, most important, if Smith is able to protect the football, there will be plenty for him to do in the fall.
  • Spring progress: The Buckeyes gave Hyde a number of reps off in the spring to get a better look at the candidates for carries behind him, putting Smith in position to show what he could do if he were needed on the first-team offense. He responded with some explosive gains, flashing the speed that makes him a home run threat while still being an option between the tackles at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds. There have never been doubts about his physical skills, though, and it's an improved ability to embrace competition and lock in focus on the practice field and in meeting rooms that should enable Smith to reach a higher level.
  • Jockeying for position: Smith wasn't going to unseat Hyde in the spring, but Smith's extra reps helped him separate from backups Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn and establish himself as the No. 2 guy in the rotation, even though he missed the last week of camp dealing with a concussion.
  • He said it: "We went into this spring with a certain emphasis in mind. We were going to work on certain things, and Carlos had really proved with those things that he was very capable in game situations. He's battle-tested, so it was time to develop some younger guys. ... Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith have separated themselves." -- running backs coach Stan Drayton
  • Closing number: A concussion suffered during a scrimmage the week before the spring game kept Smith out of the final week of practice and the closing exhibition game in Cincinnati, but that didn't cause him to give up any ground after getting 32 carries and gaining 215 yards with two touchdowns last fall.

Rising stock: Young running backs

April, 23, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice in the books and Ohio State heading into its offseason conditioning program, BuckeyeNation is looking back at the players who boosted their stock with the program the most during those 15 invaluable workouts. The offense will go first this week, followed by a handful of defenders who will be in line for heavy workloads this fall as well.

[+] EnlargeBri'onte Dunn
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsBri'onte Dunn showed plenty in spring practice, but he hasn't unseated Rod Smith as the No. 2 running back.
No. 4: Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn

  • Who: The Buckeyes had no need to stage a competition for the top job in the backfield with Carlos Hyde returning, and the athleticism Rod Smith brings to the table helped him stake an early claim to the backup job. But there were plenty of eyes on the young running backs trying to avoid getting crowded out in a stable of rushers that appears quite well stocked, and both Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball made cases to stay in the conversation heading into training camp. Dunn has already shown what he can offer after contributing on a limited basis as a freshman last fall, but Ball was more of a wildcard thanks to the foot injury that forced him to redshirt. While they certainly aren't carbon copies of each other, Ball and Dunn have similar body types and generated some positive buzz for their futures with hard-nosed running and an ability to break off some productive runs when space opened ahead of them. That only adds to the flexibility for the Buckeyes on offense.
  • Spring progress: Dunn wasn't pressed into duty much last season, but he did use his 25 carries to prove he's got potential with the football in his hands, picking up 133 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. He was also briefly an option on special teams, but the Buckeyes were looking for more focus and energy from Dunn during the spring as it gauged how much it could use him in the fall. The results, for the most part, were encouraging. The same was true for Ball, though he had much more to prove after suffering the physical setback during training camp last August. With Hyde held out of a handful of drills throughout camp in order to give the Buckeyes a chance to look at the other candidates for work behind him, Ball made the most of his opportunities and didn't give any more ground after missing his chance to shine early last season.
  • Jockeying for position: Hyde is the clear front runner, and Smith will take a lead into August as the second option in the backfield. But the Buckeyes appear to be much more comfortable with their depth at running back than they did a year ago, with Dunn and Ball locked in a tight battle to squeeze into the third spot -- which could get the winner on the field with coach Urban Meyer toying with some full-house packages.
  • He said it: "Warren Ball has shown the capability to be an explosive football player at times. I love the way he attacks defenders, I love the capability of hitting a home run from time to time. Bri'onte just brings that low pad level, move the ball 4 yards every time kind of demeanor. I think it's a fit for both of them, but I don't want them to be situational backs, though. I want them to present themselves as guys that can be in there in any given situation, and I think that might be what separates them in the future." -- running backs coach Stan Drayton
  • Closing number: The passing game was the top priority for the Scarlet squad in the spring game, leaving Dunn with few opportunities to generate momentum heading into the summer as a rusher. The sophomore finished with just two carries for 8 yards, but he did add 61 yards on five receptions out of the backfield and was a valuable weapon as a check-down target. Ball had more work for the Gray, and he averaged more than four yards per carry while getting the ball 11 times, also chipping in 17 yards on two receptions.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last workout before leaving for spring break couldn't have received higher praise.

Ohio State didn't get quite as warm of a welcome from Urban Meyer after returning from a week away from the practice field.

Meyer understood why his team might have looked a little sluggish at times on Tuesday afternoon at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and he even shouldered some of the blame for the way the schedule worked out ahead of the first full-contact practice of camp. But he doesn't figure to be as accommodating if a few miscues aren't addressed in meetings and cleaned up when the pads come on again.

"I told them, I helped them with the excuses," Meyer said. "We just got back from spring break, first day in pads -- we have to deal with excuses tomorrow.

"It just didn’t feel like a top-five practice. We’ve just got to get back and have one Thursday. The Thursday before we left was maybe the best practice we’ve had since we’ve been here."

That doesn't mean the Buckeyes didn't have some encouraging individual performances or some interesting schematic develops to evaluate in the return to action, starting with these four.

(Read full post)

Spring forward: Running backs breakdown

February, 13, 2013
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Jordan Hall, Bri'onte Dunn, Rod SmithGetty ImagesCarlos Hyde is the returning starter at running back, but Ohio State will be looking for ways to get Jordan Hall, Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith touches as well.

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.

(Read full post)

Signee draws flattering comparison

February, 8, 2013
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Dontre WIlsonAP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaDontre Wilson has track speed, but OSU's coaches like his ability to change direction with it.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The breakdown of track times offered a hint.

The glowing reviews of Dontre Wilson’s ability to use that speed in more than just a straight line brought the conversation a little closer.

Even when Ohio State coaches brought up the dual-purpose statistics the dynamic playmaker piled up as a receiver and a rusher, they weren’t all the way there yet.

But finally Urban Meyer slipped in the name that truly confirmed the role he sees the prized recruit playing in his spread offense, casually dropping in a reference to the guy who made it famous and making it obvious why Wilson was worth so much effort after initially committing to Oregon.

“That’s a very unusual athlete,” Meyer said. “He can go inside or outside. I see him being a potential dual-threat, hybrid.

“That term became kind of famous back when Percy [Harvin]started and there was the ‘Percy’ [position] name and all that.”

The search for a replacement has been on ever since the athlete at the top of the list of most impressive runners Meyer has coached headed to the NFL, and in his first season with the Buckeyes, that Pivot position was effectively left vacant.

Ohio State didn’t exactly have trouble putting up points and wound up leading the Big Ten in scoring on the way to its perfect record, but the coaching staff certainly felt there was a piece missing that could help push the attack over the top. Wilson might not be truly ready for comparisons to Harvin yet, but the former apparently reminded Meyer enough of the latter to dispatch the troops down to Texas and turn him into one of the marquee showpieces on Wednesday’s national signing day for the No. 3 class in the country.

“Very dynamic athlete,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “You sit there and look at his track times, I mean, his track times are national times. He can be a collegiate track athlete and be an All-American. I mean, he’s that fast.

“But he’s also a kid who can put his foot in the ground and change direction, and that’s what Urban Meyer was talking about, bringing a unique quality to that speed and changing direction. We’re so excited to have him in this system, because that’s probably, arguably, one of the missing pieces to the puzzle that we were looking for to complete this spread-type of philosophy that we run here.”

That’s obviously the same approach Drayton helped Meyer operate back in Florida, and he wasn’t shy about drawing comparisons to Harvin either.

Without a doubt, those are big shoes to fill. But for an offense already bringing back nine starters, with leading rusher Carlos Hyde and to receiver Corey "Philly" Brown among them, Ohio State might not really need Wilson to do a full-on Harvin impression right away.

But he at least performed one well enough in high school to catch the eye of two guys who wouldn’t have any problem recognizing it.

“[Harvin] was an athlete who played primarily receiver coming out of high school, but again, was able to bring a skill set to the running back position when that position got deficient,” Drayton said. “At the end of the day, [Wilson] brings the skill set, but he brings the depth at two positions, and that’s what makes him unique.

“He brings it all to the table.”

Now the Buckeyes have it set for him to potentially follow in some fast footsteps.

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