Ohio State Buckeyes: Warren Ball

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ezekiel Elliott never has to go too far to be reminded of the tradition he's hoping to uphold.

Inside the Ohio State running backs meeting room are pictures of legends like Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Chris "Beanie" Wells.

"I'm very aware," Elliott said. "Every day, [running backs] coach [Stan] Drayton reminds us. When you see those guys every day, you know you have to continue the legacy."

[+] EnlargeElliott
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott is hoping his versatility will make him Ohio State's primary ball-carrier in 2014.
Elliott doesn't even have to think back that far in history to know what he's trying to replace. Last year, Carlos Hyde led the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, finishing with 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns despite serving a three-game suspension to start the year.

Hyde's departure leaves a seemingly gaping hole in the Ohio State backfield. Elliott, a sophomore, will get the first crack at filling it.

He ran 30 times for 262 yards last year, with most of that production coming in a 162-yard performance in mop-up duty against Florida A&M. There’s certainly a difference carrying the ball against an overmatched opponent like the Rattlers and doing it in the heart of Big Ten play, but Elliott says that brief experience as a true freshman was beneficial.

"Getting out there and playing helped a lot, just getting those jitters out," he said. "Hopefully this year, I'll be ready to go.

"I think I've improved a lot. I've gotten a lot bigger, I'm faster and I anticipate the game a lot better."

Urban Meyer has stopped short of anointing Elliott as the heir to Hyde, but Elliott practiced with the first unit almost the entire spring. He had only three carries in last week's spring game, as the Buckeyes know by now what they've got with him. Senior Rod Smith, who missed spring practice because of academics, and sophomores Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn also are in the mix for carries. Midyear enrollee Curtis Samuel also impressed the coaches this spring.

Still, it's pretty clear the Buckeyes see Elliott as the starter in 2014. Elliott has the pedigree; ESPN Recruiting ranked him the No. 11 running back in the Class of 2013 after he piled up 3,061 all-purpose yards and 50 touchdowns as a high school senior in St. Louis. He also won three Missouri state track and field titles.

"He probably has some of the best quick-hip explosion of anybody on the team," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "You see it in his pass protection. You see it in his quick, sudden burst cuts. He has good vision, and he's a great team guy who just wants to win and go hard. There's a lot to like."

There's more of Elliott to like this season, too. Last year, he played between 210 and 215 pounds. This spring, he said, he weighs about 225 pounds. He doesn't look as thickly built as Hyde, who was listed at 236, but he still packs some power in his carries.

"He's a very strong runner," Herman said. "On a scale of 1-to-10, if Hyde is a 10, then he's an 8.59. He's not there, but he's still pretty darn good when it comes to running between the tackles, putting his shoulder down and making the tough two-, three- and four-yard runs."

Elliott, however, won't have the veteran offensive line that Hyde enjoyed running behind the past two seasons. Only one starter -- tackle Taylor Decker -- returns from last year's unit, and the Buckeyes spent this spring trying to find the right combination up front. That remains a concern heading into the summer, but Ohio State remains dedicated to establishing a physical ground attack.

"We're never going to abandon our core principles and tenants and beliefs offensively in terms of being a downhill, A-gap, tight zone and power running team," Herman said. "Now, will we need to get the ball to the perimeter a little more to take the heat off the guys up front? Probably."

That's another reason the Buckeyes like Elliott. He can get those tough yards in between the tackles, but he's also got the speed to do more than just that, as evidenced by his 8.7 yards-per-carry average in limited duty last season.

"I can take it outside, run tight zone, power and catch the ball out of the backfield," he said. "So think it helps a lot that I'm versatile."

Elliott will need every tool at his disposal to live up to the standards set by some of his Ohio State predecessors. Good thing he's got a lot of them.
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.

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 26, 2014
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Spring practice is off and running in the Big Ten, as Michigan took the field Tuesday and Northwestern followed on Wednesday. We're taking snapshots of where each team stands at each position group.

We've already discussed the quarterbacks -- and will have much more on the way -- so the series begins with the running backs.

Illinois: The Illini are in a bit better shape here than they were the past two springs, as veterans Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young both return. Ferguson averaged 5.5 yards per carry and added 50 receptions for 535 yards as the primary playmaker for Illinois' revamped offense. Young added 376 yards on 93 carries. The Illini are looking for others behind the top two, and Dami Ayoola is back with the team after being dismissed in September for a rules violation.

Indiana: Tevin Coleman quietly put together a superb sophomore season and leads the Hoosiers' running backs in 2014. Coleman provides big-play ability after averaging 7.3 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns on only 131 attempts in 2013. Indiana loses Stephen Houston but brings back veteran D'Angelo Roberts, who will play behind Coleman. Younger players such as sophomore Laray Smith could get a look here.

Iowa: Not only did the Hawkeyes toss AIRBHG to the side and get through the season without any major injurie, but they bring back everyone for 2014. Senior Mark Weisman leads the contingent after rushing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. Jordan Canzeri came on strong late in the season and is showing no effects from his ACL tear in 2012. Veteran Damon Bullock also returns to the mix, and Iowa has talented younger backs such as LeShun Daniels Jr. at its disposal. Good situation here.

Maryland: The Terrapins wide receivers tend to get more attention, but the team also returns its top three running backs from 2013 in Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii. Maryland also regains the services of Wes Brown, who finished second on the team in rushing as a freshman in 2012 before being suspended for all of last season. Joe Riddle is back in the fold as well. The group brings different strengths, from power (Brown) to speed (Veii) to a mixture of both (Ross, Reid).

Michigan: Sophomore Derrick Green enters the spring as the frontrunner to be Michigan's lead back, although coach Brady Hoke wants to ramp up competition everywhere. The Wolverines struggled to consistently run between the tackles, but the 240-pound Green could change things. Hoke also is excited about another sophomore, De'Veon Smith. Michigan moved Ross Douglas from cornerback to running back, and Justice Hayes and Wyatt Shallman also are in the mix. "We've got more depth," Hoke said.

Michigan State: Things look much more promising than they did last spring, when the Spartans ended the session with a linebacker (Riley Bullough) as their top back. Jeremy Langford emerged as a very solid option during the season, rushing for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's back as the clear-cut starter, and Nick Hill also returns. It will be interesting to see if Gerald Holmes makes a push, or whether Delton Williams remains on offense.

Minnesota: Here's another team that finds itself in very good shape at running back entering the spring. David Cobb leads the group after rushing for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. Veterans Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. are still around, and highly touted redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards will take the field after missing last fall because of knee and ankle injuries. Perhaps the best news will come in the summer as decorated recruit Jeff Jones arrives.

Nebraska: Notice a theme here? Nebraska is yet another Big Ten squad that can feel very good about its running backs entering the spring. Ameer Abdullah elected to bypass the NFL draft for one final season at Nebraska, where he led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards on 281 carries as a junior. Abdullah will contend for national awards in the fall. Imani Cross, who rushed for 10 touchdowns last year, is one of the nation's top backups. Terrell Newby and others add depth behind the top two.

Northwestern: Top back Venric Mark (ankle) will miss spring practice following surgery, and reserve Stephen Buckley (knee) also is rehabbing, but Northwestern has no reason to panic. Treyvon Green, who filled in well for Mark last season with 736 rushing yards, will get much of the work. Warren Long also is in the mix after appearing in seven games as a true freshman. Northwestern also loaded up at running back in recruiting to solidify the position for years to come.

Ohio State: This will be a position to watch in the spring as Ohio State must replace Carlos Hyde, who was nearly unstoppable during Big Ten play last fall. Veteran Jordan Hall also departs, and Rod Smith will be the veteran of the group despite only 83 career carries. The Buckeyes have some talented young backs, from Dontre Wilson, who saw significant playing time last fall, to Bri'onte Dunn, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball. Keep an eye on Elliott, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry in limited work last season but could emerge this spring.

Penn State: If it feels like Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have been competing for carries forever at Penn State, it's because they have. Zwinak and Belton have been part of Penn State's running back rotation for the past two seasons and enter another competition this spring with talented sophomore Akeel Lynch, who rushed for 358 yards on only 60 carries last season. It will be interesting to see how much Lynch can push Zwinak and Belton in the team's first spring under a new coaching staff. Penn State has depth issues at several positions, but running back isn't one of them.

Purdue: The Boilers finished 122nd nationally in rushing offense last season, so the fact all of their running backs return might not spark mass celebration. Senior Akeem Hunt leads the group after recording 123 of the team's 319 rushing attempts in 2013. Other veteransBrandon Cottom and Raheem Mostert also are back, along with younger ball-carries such as Dayln Dawkins and three backs -- Keyante Green, David Yancey and Keith Byars II -- who redshirted last fall and could have much bigger roles.

Rutgers: Here's yet another team that returns basically its entire stable of running backs for spring ball. Paul James is the name to watch, as he rushed for 573 yards in the first four games last season before suffering a leg injury. James' health is a concern for Rutgers, which could also turn to Justin Goodwin, who showed some flashes following James' injury. Savon Huggins, who entered last season as the starter before losing ground, is in the mix as he looks to re-establish himself on the depth chart.

Wisconsin: How many teams can lose a 1,400-yard rusher and still claim to have the best running back group in the Big Ten? James White is gone, but Wisconsin remains in very good shape in the backfield. Melvin Gordon bypassed the NFL draft for another year in Madison after rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 206 carries. Gordon should move into more of a featured role beginning this spring, although he'll be pushed by Corey Clement, who had 547 yards and seven touchdowns on only 67 carries. Jeff Lewis provides another option behind the top two.

Top spring position battles: No. 4

February, 18, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field in spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline.

But the pressure isn't the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won't be sweating a competition for a starting job -- obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But who will back up Braxton Miller is just one of the most intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and after already tackling that topic in the countdown, the series rolls along with a look at who else might be lining up with him in the Ohio State backfield.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott averaged 8.6 yards and had three touchdowns on his 33 touches as a freshman in 2013.
No. 4: Running back

  • Predecessor: Carlos Hyde (208 carries for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns; 16 catches for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns)
  • Candidates: Senior Rod Smith, redshirt sophomores Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball, true sophomores Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson
  • Why to watch: The Buckeyes will again spend the spring and summer months emphasizing improvements in the passing game and seeking to find more balance in the play-calling, but Urban Meyer's version of a successful spread offense will always start with a powerful rushing attack. And after two seasons of leaning on Hyde to do the heavy lifting between the tackles and keep the chains moving, the Buckeyes now need a new sidekick for Miller -- or maybe a couple of them. With such a deep stable of options returning to fill the void left by Hyde and his 19 carries per game, Ohio State might not need to tab just one guy to handle the majority of the work. They could try to spread around touches among as many as four rushers. That was also the plan to some extent last year, though, before Hyde clearly proved he was the most reliable and consistent threat on the ground and ultimately soaked up most of the snaps. All that playing time is available now, and the competition to earn it will no doubt be heated.
  • Pre-camp edge: If the Buckeyes are purely looking for a strong, rugged rusher who fits the physical mold of Hyde, Smith or Dunn might have the advantage. Should Meyer want to feature a more dynamic athlete like he always intended to do with Jordan Hall, Wilson might be in line for more work as a traditional tailback instead of shifting around as a hybrid weapon. But the best combination of size, speed and game-breaking ability appears to be Elliott, who showed glimpses of his potential while racking up 262 yards on just 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns during his first season on campus. Of the many candidates the Buckeyes can sort through, the process is likely to start with Elliott when the pads go back on next month.

Players to watch in spring: No. 3

February, 12, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offseason conditioning program is in full swing. Signing day has come and gone. Blink and spring practice will already be here.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsFormer ESPN 300 prospect Ezekiel Elliott could be in line to start at tailback for the Buckeyes in 2014.
Ohio State is less than a month away from getting back on the field and starting preparations for the 2014 season, and those days probably can't go by fast enough for a program coming off consecutive losses after a 24-game winning streak. To help pass the time, we're counting down the top five players who are facing critical springs, either because it's a turning point in their careers or because the Buckeyes are counting heavily on them to fill vacant jobs as they try to get back in contention for a national title again in the fall. The series rolls along today with another potential weapon on offense.

No. 3: Ezekiel Elliott, running back

  • By the numbers: There wasn’t an abundance of opportunity for the reserves in the Ohio State backfield, but Elliott made the most of the chances he did get as a true freshman, rushing 30 times for 262 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
  • What’s at stake: The starter and workhorse at running back is gone, and somebody is going to have to fill the large void Carlos Hyde leaves behind as he heads to the next level. The Buckeyes have plenty of options on hand, but given the relatively even playing field heading into spring, Elliott is staring at a golden opportunity to claim a starting job and keep the momentum rolling for one of the nation’s most potent rushing attacks. Bri’onte Dunn, Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Dontre Wilson are all factors for playing time at tailback as well, but Elliott’s 8.7 yards per carry off the bench during his first season with the program raised the already high expectations for his career and likely will give him the inside track. Wilson is certain to see more touches as a sophomore, but he remains more of a hybrid weapon in the spread offense, while Elliott could fit into the more traditional role Hyde filled as a partner to quarterback Braxton Miller on the ground over the last two seasons.
  • Best-case scenario: With such a deep stable of rushers, the Buckeyes don’t necessarily need to just settle on one guy to handle the majority of the workload at the position. But as Hyde helped prove at the end of his career, allowing a tailback to get into a rhythm throughout the game and to develop chemistry with Miller running the option has its benefits, offering some evidence that a clear pecking order on the depth chart would be valuable leaving spring practice. The competition is going to be heated, and older players such as Smith and Dunn won’t be lacking for motivation heading into a potential make-or-break camp in March. But Elliott is likely going to be the favorite, and having him solidify that status would no doubt be a relief for Ohio State.

Five things: Indiana at Ohio State

November, 23, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Looking at the critical areas and key players as No. 3 Ohio State looks to clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game at home against Indiana on Senior Day (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2).

Focus first: Everywhere the Buckeyes look, they'll find something that can cause a distraction. The BCS standings provide the easiest way for the Buckeyes to lose focus, because they are keenly aware of where they stand, the narrowing lead they possess over No. 4 Baylor and how important it is to win easily against overmatched opponents. But there is also a school-record winning streak on the line, a chance to clinch a share of the division title that would send them to Indianapolis for the conference title game and an emotional pregame ceremony planned to honor the seniors, and all of that could spell a letdown if Ohio State isn't locked in on the task at hand. Urban Meyer has been working overtime this week to ensure that doesn't happen.

Put it in the ground: After all the years of questions about why Meyer hasn't had a running back put up a 1,000-yard season, Carlos Hyde is set to emphatically put that conversation to rest once and for all. The senior has made it look pretty simple, in fact, and he needs just 53 yards against one of the nation's worst rushing defenses to hit that milestone despite missing the first three games of the season. The Hoosiers are allowing more than 250 yards per game on the ground, and the suspect tackling and assignment errors that have popped up for them defensively this year doesn't bode well against Hyde or Braxton Miller, who have been on a tear in the backfield for an Ohio State offense that ranks No. 4 in the nation in rushing.

Health nuts: Some help appears to be on the way back for Ryan Shazier at linebacker, and plugging Joshua Perry back in the rotation should alleviate some of the issues that popped up for the Buckeyes last week in a somewhat sluggish defensive outing at Illinois. Curtis Grant is still questionable with ankle and back problems, but having two healthy starters at the second level might be enough for Ohio State, given how frequently it figures to be using its nickel and dime personnel against an Indiana offense that throws for an average of more than 300 yards per game. Perhaps most important for the Buckeyes is getting a healthy Joey Bosa back on the field at defensive end, because the pressure the freshman puts on opposing passers has a way of making the jobs easier for everybody behind him.

Shake it off: Miller might have been due for an off week throwing the football coming off such a hot streak to close out October, and the poor weather at Illinois was obviously a factor in a 13-for-29 performance that looked little like the 68-percent efficiency he's delivered this season. With Miller and Hyde having so much success on the ground, it hardly made a difference anyway as the Buckeyes rolled to 60 points and another victory. But Meyer has stressed all season the importance of balance between the rush and the pass, and Miller might need a strong start through the air to keep the Hoosiers from loading the box, making him prove that he can bounce back from a shaky outing.

Something special: A season of airtight coverage on special teams finally had a hole poked in it last week, with injuries starting to take a toll on the kicking game for the Buckeyes. They've spent plenty of time trying to develop offensive players into tacklers to avoid a repeat of the 67-yard punt return for a touchdown they allowed last week, and guys like Warren Ball and Ezekiel Elliott will need to be sharp on the coverage units against a team that is capable of finding a hole and exploiting it. The Hoosiers rank third in the Big Ten in punt return average, and they've already taken one punt back for a touchdown this season.

What we learned: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- New developments for Ohio State coming out of an easy, tune-up win over Florida A&M, a 76-0 rout on Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium.

Man on fire: Braxton Miller is eventually going to come back and reclaim his starting job, but Kenny Guiton has more than kept the seat warm. The redshirt senior has been a record-setting inferno, throwing the football in the last two victories while Miller has rested his sprained knee. Guiton etched his name in Ohio State lore again with six touchdown passes -- the most in school history for a single game, a record that only took him two quarters to accomplish. The Buckeyes were already confident in their backup before the last two weeks, but their depth at quarterback has proven to be a luxury few teams in the country can match.

The defensive line is only getting better: Even with two starters out with injury, the Buckeyes still were able to deliver consistent pressure. The defensive line continues to silence any doubts about a rebuilt unit up front. Adolphus Washington (groin) and Michael Bennett (stinger) were held out to get them ready for next week’s physical test against Wisconsin, and backups Steve Miller and Chase Farris each chipped in sacks to offer some evidence there is improving depth to go along with the top-end talent in the normal first-team lineup.

The offense has weapons to spare: The Rattlers were hopelessly overmatched from the start, so much of Ohio State’s frighteningly efficient offensive outing must be taken with a grain of salt. But the Buckeyes have more than just a capable backup at quarterback -- they’ve got dynamic, young playmakers waiting for touches at running back and wide receiver as well. Ezekiel Elliott came off the bench in the second half to rush for 162 yards and two touchdowns, Warren Ball added 49 more rushing yards and Guiton completed passes to 10 receivers. Ohio State is putting up points in bunches now, and the future looks just as bright.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The projected starter has handled his business and is finally returning after a three-game suspension. Carlos Hyde is a proven touchdown machine, and he will no doubt want to make up for lost time.

[+] Enlarge Jordan Hall
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsOhio State tailback Jordan Hall has rushed for 402 yards and six touchdowns so far this season.
The guy who filled in for him is still healthy, red-hot and has done nothing to lose his spot in the Ohio State backfield. Jordan Hall has shown he's more than capable of handling the every-down workload, and there might not be much reason to tinker with what has worked early in the season.

The electric freshman has put his speed on full display and lived up to the enormous hype that built from the moment he signed with the Buckeyes through a head-turning training camp. The package of plays for Dontre Wilson appears to be steadily expanding, and Ohio State hasn't exactly been hiding the fact it would like to get him more involved.

But coach Urban Meyer only has one football at a time at his disposal during the game, and with Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Ezekiel Elliott all clamoring for touches as well, finding a way for them all to be involved is about to become an even bigger challenge with Hyde set for his debut on Saturday against Florida A&M. Maybe it's an issue that would make Meyer's peers around the country envious, but it's a potential problem nevertheless.

"Jordan Hall has certainly earned the right to touch the ball in a big way, so I'm not sure yet [about the distribution of carries]," Meyer said. "Carlos did a lot a for us a year ago -- a lot. He's a very talented running back, and that [suspension] was hard on everybody.

"But this is a good issue to have."

Meyer doesn't appear to be in a hurry to solve it, and this week it might not make any difference against a Football Championship Subdivision defense that figures to be grossly overmatched against one of the most explosive offenses in the country. But based on a relatively small sample size since he took over the program last year, it doesn't appear Meyer will be worried about hurting any feelings when it comes time to decide who will be taking handoffs and how many they might get.

The Buckeyes weren't nearly as deep at tailback a year ago after Hall's second injury forced him to redshirt after appearing in just three games, and that was obviously a significant factor for an attack that leaned heavily on Hyde and his 185 carries. But despite having Smith and Bri'onte Dunn available on the bench, Hall actually still finished the season second among running backs with 40 attempts.

So far this season, Meyer has again appeared to favor riding with one running back to complement his mobile quarterbacks the majority of the time in the ground game. Excluding rushing attempts by the quarterbacks, Hall has taken 65 percent of the carries through three games despite some lopsided scores -- including a career-high 30 attempts in the blowout win over California on Saturday.

Wilson chipped in five carries, and with 59 yards to show for it a week after producing 51 yards and a touchdown, the speedster only figures to be getting more involved moving forward.

But now Hyde is coming back into the equation as well. And while the Buckeyes had laid some plans in spring practice for Hall to slide out to H-back and the offensive staff had toyed with full-house backfields featuring three running backs to incorporate all that talent into the formation at once, no matter how Meyer eventually decides to spread the ball around, the pickings will have to get slim for a few guys.

"I've been thinking about that," Meyer said. "I don't know yet. I'll answer that later in the week."

Finding a way to keep everybody happy this week probably won't be that tough. But even once the competition does pick up again next week when Big Ten play opens, sorting through too many options in the backfield certainly beats the alternative for the Buckeyes.
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.

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.

Ohio State season preview

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Let's take a look at Ohio State as it tries to build off an undefeated season and compete for titles now that its postseason ban has expired.

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Coach: Urban Meyer (116-23, 11 seasons; 12-0 at Ohio State)

2012 record: 12-0, Leaders Division champions (ineligible for postseason)

Key losses: DE John Simon, DT Johnathan Hankins, RT Reid Fragel, WR/TE Jake Stoneburner, LB/FB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Al BehrmanUrban Meyer has an experienced QB in Braxton Miller and depth at running back entering his second season at Ohio State.
Key returnees: QB Braxton Miller, WR Philly Brown, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley, RG Marcus Hall, RB Carlos Hyde, LB Ryan Shazier

Newcomer to watch: Meyer was never able to find somebody to play his hybrid H-back position last year, so the Buckeyes simply didn’t use it. Now the program has two options on hand who appear to fit the mold, and freshman speedster Dontre Wilson could make an instant impact in that role thanks to his wheels and elusiveness. Wilson has quickly made a splash during training camp, and he has the ability to be a factor in both the rushing and receiving game.

Biggest games in 2013: The last week of the regular season is always a cut above the rest, and Ohio State’s trip up north to take on rival Michigan on Nov. 30 could have enormous stakes for a team eying a national title this year. A visit to Northwestern on Oct. 5 will also be a test, and home games against Wisconsin (Sept. 28) and Penn State (Oct. 26) will be critical in the divisional race.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Almost the entire front seven has undergone a face-lift since last season as six starters have moved on from the program, but there isn’t that much concern about the defensive line because sophomore sensations Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are poised for breakout campaigns.

There is some hand-wringing going on at linebacker, though, and the depth issues that forced Ohio State to move Boren from fullback to lend a hand on defense last season haven’t yet been corrected. Newcomers Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell may need to develop quickly to fill out the rotation, because otherwise an injury or two to Shazier, middle linebacker Curtis Grant or sophomore Joshua Perry could create significant problems at the second level for coordinator Luke Fickell.

Forecast: While there might be some uncertainty about a younger, more inexperienced defense, there is absolutely nothing but booming confidence on the other side of the ball for the Buckeyes.

Braxton Miller returns for his third season as the starting quarterback, fresh off a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race and an offseason of improvement as a passer. A deeper stable of rushers joins him in the backfield to add even more versatility to a ground game that was among the nation’s best last year. Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball give Meyer enough talent to tinker with the idea of putting three of them on the field at the same time. Somewhat shorthanded at receiver a year ago, the Buckeyes also have more targets at their disposal in the passing attack and a pair of tight ends who can create major mismatches for opposing defenses. It obviously doesn’t hurt to have four senior starters paving the way up front and offering some protection for Miller.

That personnel, of course, is coached by Meyer, who has a proven track record of success in his second season with a program, boasting a combined record of 34-4 in his three previous Year 2s -- not to mention an undefeated record at Utah and a national title at Florida.

It all adds up to an offense that might be the most explosive Ohio State has ever had, which should allow the rebuilding front seven on defense some time to develop as the program hunts its first crystal football since 2002.

Position preview: Running backs

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
10:00
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster as offseason conditioning wraps up, training camp draws closer and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

RUNNING BACKS

Depth chart: Carlos Hyde* starting ahead of Rod Smith

[+] EnlargeRod Smith
Jim Owens/Icon SMIRod Smith averaged 6.7 yards per carry for Ohio State in 2012.
Next in line: Charges won’t be filed against Hyde, but the asterisk will stick around just to note that he won't be around for at least the first three games after coach Urban Meyer suspended him anyway on Tuesday. The senior will clearly still be the feature back when he returns, but Smith will slide into the top spot for the start of the season and what was expected to be a close battle to be the third wheel would become a race for the backup job between Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball. More shuffling could conceivably be done, with senior Jordan Hall perhaps returning to the backfield on a full-time basis instead of focusing on the hybrid Pivot position.

New face: Ezekiel Elliott isn’t hurting for attention heading into his freshman season, but it’s a guy who will be splitting time between the running backs and the wide receivers who is generating by far the most buzz ahead of training camp. Dontre Wilson’s raw speed has had Ohio State coaches anxious to get their hands on him since national signing day, and his workouts this summer had veteran teammates raving about him last week at Big Ten Media Days. Meyer tried to tap the brakes a bit on all the hype, but it’s no secret Wilson is in line to touch the ball early in his career with the Buckeyes.

Recruiting trail: The Buckeyes don’t have a tailback in the fold yet for the class of 2014, but they have their eyes on a handful of ESPN 300 targets who could add to what will remain a deep stable of rushers. Hyde will graduate after this season. There are five offers still out for recruits ranked among the top 300 players in the country overall, with Donte Thomas-Williams (Durham, N.C./Hillside) currently boasting the best evaluation from ESPN scouts.

Flexibility: If Hyde handles his responsibilities away from the field and returns for the Buckeyes in time for Big Ten play, there is no doubt who will be the top option at tailback in the spread offense. But with or without him, there is plenty of depth at Ohio State, and Smith, Dunn and Ball could all be involved in some capacity either way. In fact, Meyer might turn as many as three of them loose at the same time if he deploys the diamond formation, which the Buckeyes tinkered with in the spring. It could take the option attack to a whole different level with Braxton Miller pulling the strings.

Notable numbers:

  • Meyer still hasn’t had a 1,000-yard running back in his career, a fact Hyde is certainly aware of. Had he not been injured early in his junior season or had a bowl to play in, Hyde would have been a lock to break that streak with his average of 97 yards per game. More company in the backfield could lead to fewer carries when he returns from suspension and might have made it a challenge to hit that milestone anyway, but the bar is even higher now.
  • Assuming Smith can keep a tighter grip on the football, the Buckeyes should have no second thoughts about putting it in his hands. In his limited role a year ago, the junior again showed that he has all the physical tools needed to be a star, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. Fumble concerns kept him from really chipping away at Hyde’s workload, and that will remain the top priority for Smith moving forward.
  • Nobody saw more touches on the ground or racked up more yardage in that department than Ball in the spring game, another reminder that he could push for some action after sitting out last season following a foot injury suffered in training camp. The redshirt freshman rushed 11 times for 45 yards in the exhibition with a long of 15, which might not qualify as an earth-shattering performance, but an encouraging one for the Buckeyes nevertheless.
Big question: How will the Buckeyes spread the wealth?

The coaching staff obviously won’t have any complaints about their depth, but trying to keep so many talented rushers happy can become a bit of a headache when the cupboard is overflowing the way it is at Ohio State. Somebody is inevitably going to be left out of meaningful action, particularly with the Buckeyes likely expanding the offense to get more touches from Hall or Wilson at H-back and an improved passing game taking some of the burden off the ground attack. But Meyer has proven more than capable of pulling off the balancing act in the past, which is one significant reason why Meyer has never had a 1,000-yard tailback. The inclusion of a package that includes three running backs at once could help alleviate any potential hurt feelings.
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.

Leaving a legacy: Carlos Hyde

June, 24, 2013
6/24/13
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The final chapter hasn't been written yet for Ohio State's senior class, and a handful of Buckeyes have a chance to author something pretty memorable. This week, we'll be looking at five players with a chance to leave a legacy with the program with one more productive season, what kind of impact they might have this fall and how they might be viewed down the road.

Carlos Hyde
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesCarlos Hyde scored 17 touchdowns as a junior and came close to becoming Urban Meyer's first 1,000-yard running back.
Carlos Hyde

  • So far: The bruising rusher from Naples, Fla., had to wait longer than perhaps he wanted to before taking over the starting job in the backfield, but Hyde proved that he deserved it with a breakout junior campaign that almost certainly would have included more than 1,000 yards if he'd been healthy all year. Hyde was a monster in the red zone and racked up 17 total touchdowns, which has him knocking on the door to Ohio State's all-time top-10 in career scoring. The Buckeyes have no shortage of legendary tailbacks in the record book, and while a handful will remain untouchable for Hyde no matter what he does this fall, he could still wind up climbing into elite company.
  • Numbers to date: 315 carries for 1,677 yards and 22 touchdowns; 18 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown
  • Record chasing: Hyde was almost automatic a year ago when the Buckeyes were knocking on the end-zone door, but there's still plenty of work to do with the scoring bar set so high at a program that has churned out prolific rushers. Hyde still needs 14 more rushing touchdowns to crack the top five in school history, and one more than that would move him ahead of Tim Spencer and Harold Henson into fourth place by himself.
  • What's next: Clearly the top choice heading into a season for the first time in his career, Hyde finally won't have to prove himself during camp or fight for chances to touch the football. But even as one of Ohio State's first offensive options, along with quarterback Braxton Miller, Hyde might not see quite the same steady diet of carries as he did a year ago with a deeper pool of tailbacks behind him, starting with Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball and likely including touches for freshmen Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall. A more explosive Hyde, though, might not need the ball as often to eclipse his yardage total from last season, and breaking through to give coach Urban Meyer his first 1,000-yard running back would give him a legacy that in some ways would transcend Ohio State.
  • Crystal ball: Projecting Hyde's 2012 season over potentially 14 games this year would put him on pace for nearly 1,400 yards, a number that would give him more than 3,000 yards for his career. Ohio State has only had six players hit that milestone in school history, and with a perfect season already on his resume and a chance to make a run at something even bigger this fall, Hyde is in position to crack the conversation about the great rushers in school history.
With spring in the books for more than a month, the long march through the offseason and back to football is only beginning. But BuckeyeNation is going to keep doing its part to speed up the journey -- or at least make it more interesting. This week, that means a bunch of countdown lists, continuing today with a look at the most valuable Buckeyes coming out of spring practice and how it compares to the last breakdown of the 2012 season.

Ohio State 10: Post-spring power rankings, 1-5

Braxton Miller
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIREBraxton Miller remains the No. 1 player in the Ohio State 10.
No. 1: QB Braxton Miller

  • Last ranking: No. 1
  • Spring movement: There was nowhere the junior could go but down in the rankings, but his work in camp only solidified his standing as the most valuable player in the program. Miller's skills are only improving as a passer, and the work he can do with his legs is already well documented. If the Buckeyes are going to win a national championship, it will be their multitalented quarterback doing the heavy lifting.
  • Key stat: Miller took a significant step forward in his passing accuracy last fall, bumping his completion percentage by more than four full points up to 58.3. He doesn't even need to duplicate that same level of improvement to cross a critical milestone in his development, because simply hitting the 60-percent mark would make the spread offense much more devastating.

No. 2: LB Ryan Shazier

  • Last ranking: No. 2
  • Spring movement: The junior was limited throughout camp as he recovered from surgery to repair a sports hernia, but his absence offered a clear reminder of how critical he is for a defense in transition after the loss of six starters in the front seven. The depth at linebacker is certainly not to the level the Buckeyes are used to traditionally, and the margin for error is still slim. But putting a healthy Shazier back on the field with his sideline-t0-sideline athleticism and nose for the football can help mask any growing pains that might be going on around him, and he's in line for more monster numbers this fall.
  • Key stat: The raw totals were impressive on their own, but the rate at which Shazier made plays in the backfield speaks volumes about his ability to read and react to what he sees at outside linebacker. During his breakout sophomore campaign, one in about every seven tackles for Shazier resulted in a loss for opponents -- which can produce a lot of lost ground when a guy is piling up a total of 115 hits during the season.
No. 3: CB Bradley Roby

  • Last ranking: No. 4
  • Last No. 3: RB Carlos Hyde
  • Spring movement: Roby also missed some action during camp as he took some time to let an ailing shoulder recover, but there's been little doubt about how much the redshirt junior's return to the program for another season will lift the defense. Aside from the physical tools that have him already projected as the top cornerback in the 2014 draft, Roby is tapping into some vocal leadership that he previously hasn't displayed and helping to bring along a group of talented young defensive backs who will ultimately need to replace him when he's gone. That provides both short- and long-term benefits.
  • Key stat: Opposing quarterbacks aren't likely going to have much desire to test Roby in the passing game, which might make it important for him to fight off complacency and find other ways to make an impact. For starters, Roby is a willing tackler and finished with 63 a year ago, and helping against the run or blitzing off the edge could be ways to keep making a mark.
No. 4: RB Carlos Hyde

  • Last ranking: N0. 3
  • Last No. 4: CB Bradley Roby
  • Spring movement: The bruising, high-scoring tailback was unquestionably the starter going into spring, and he didn't need to do much work to keep that position heading into the summer. And while there has never been more praise for Hyde and his potential to give Urban Meyer a 1,000-yard rusher, there's a chance now that the Buckeyes had a look at their backup options and came away feeling good about them that a few carries might slip away from him and wind up with Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn or perhaps Warren Ball in certain situations. What Hyde can offer certainly hasn't changed, but the Buckeyes might now be able to add a bit more variety to their ground attack.
  • Key stat: When his 242 pounds are moving downhill with the kind of speed that isn't natural for somebody Hyde's size, the urge to just run over people might be tough to turn down. But the Buckeyes need more elusiveness from him when he does break through to the secondary, which could turn attempts such as his longest run of 29 yards a year ago into something much more explosive.
No. 5: LT Jack Mewhort

  • Last ranking: None
  • Last No. 5: WR Philly Brown
  • Spring movement: The torch was ready to be passed with two-time captain John Simon moving on to the NFL, and Mewhort has locked his grip on it and become the type of guy Meyer leans on to get his message across and ensure the troops are all on the same page. Aside from his intangibles, Mewhort is back for another season as a starter after a productive junior campaign in which he emerged as one of the top blockers in the Big Ten. With three other veterans returning along with him, the group up front will set the tone for the Buckeyes all year long.
  • Key stat: Miller's athleticism can bail out a missed assignment or two from his blockers, and it can occasionally get him in trouble as he tries to extend plays a bit longer than he should. So while the blame can be spread around, either way the Buckeyes will be trying to cut down on the 30 sacks they gave up a year ago as the offense tries to hit a higher gear.

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