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Buckeye breakdown: running back

A preview of the running back position at Ohio State this season

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Buckeye Breakdown will preview each position heading into the 2019 Ohio State football season. For the first edition, let’s look at the running backs.

Ohio State’s offense is going to look a lot different in 2019, both in terms of personnel and scheme change. With a new, mobile quarterback in place, the Buckeyes will likely see an increase in the ground game. Mike Weber, who provided almost 2,700 yards and 25 total touchdowns over three seasons, is off to the NFL. In his place, the Scarlet and Gray still have a bunch of talent in the backfield that should contribute to an efficient rushing offense this year.

The Starter

The Buckeyes’ lead back will without a doubt be J.K. Dobbins, who split carries with Weber for most of his first two seasons with the program. At 5-foot-10, 214 pounds, Dobbins is an extremely strong back while still maintaining breakaway speed in the open field. He is also very fleet of foot, able to spin-move and juke his way around would-be tacklers with ease.

Dobbins burst onto the scene in 2017. With Weber injured for the team’s opening game of the season against Indiana, a true freshman Dobbins took the field for the first time. He dazzled straight out of the gate, rushing for 181 yards on 29 carries as he led Ohio State to victory in Bloomington. Dobbins would split carries with Weber once he returned, but did start in all 14 games that season, breaking Maurice Clarett’s school record with 1,403 yards as a freshman.

Continuing to split carries with Weber, Dobbins’ numbers dipped a bit in 2018, but the RB out of La Grange, Texas, posted a second straight 1,000-yard season, the first OSU back ever to have 1,000-yard seasons as both a freshman and sophomore. While Dobbins scored 12 TDs last season, four more than the year prior, his yards per carry dropped from 7.2 to 4.6. With a chance to finally start a season alone at the top of the RB depth chart, Dobbins will look to continue to provide solid production out of the backfield for a third straight year.

The Reserves

While Dobbins is the clear-cut No. 1, the Buckeyes do possess a ton of talent behind him that they can use in a variety of ways. At this point in time it is unclear how Ohio State will roll out their handful of skilled running backs. The playing time will be distributed in some fashion between the trio of Demario McCall, Master Teague and Marcus Crowley.

It is entirely likely that Ryan Day will choose to use his backs situationally, rather than in just some predetermined depth chart order. If that is the case, then expected to see a ton of Demario McCall. McCall has been a guy that has showed a tremendously high ceiling, but just hasn’t been able to find a way onto the field as a result of a handful of injuries. At just 5-foot-9, McCall is quite undersized, but he does possess elite athleticism and versatility. Ohio State could certainly use McCall much like they did Curtis Samuel, providing a chance of pace as a pure speed back behind Dobbins and also as a potential slot receiver.

However, playing time still may not be that easy to find for McCall, as the guys behind him have been making noise. There has been a ton of talk about Master Teague this offseason, coming into spring camp with a ton of added muscle and confidence. He showed off some of his skills in the spring game, putting up a game-high 75 yards and a pair of TDs. The redshirt freshman seems more than comfortable in this Ohio State offense, and if he continues to impress in fall camp, he could very well end up receiving the bulk of the carries behind Dobbins.

Freshman Marcus Crowley looked good in his first spring camp with the Buckeyes, finishing it off with 50 yards and a TD in the spring game. As one of only three healthy scholarship RBs for Ohio State this spring, Crowley received more work than he probably would have otherwise, able to get in some very beneficial reps with the ones and twos at times. A four-star recruit, Crowley is no doubt talented, and will likely get some playing time in garbage time early in the year in what will probably end up becoming a redshirt season.

Overview

Ohio State has a ton of depth at the running back position this season. While Dobbins was not as effective in year two, a move to a full-time workload as well as the addition of a mobile quarterback, like he had with J.T. Barrett his freshman year, should be favorable conditions for a dominant year for the junior.

The Buckeyes’ offense has always been at its best when it has been able to run the football. A solid ground game opens up the offense and makes the passing game even easier. The ability to switch around guys with different running styles like Dobbins, McCall and Teague will make it increasingly hard for opposing offenses to gameplan for, and with the legs of Justin Fields thrown into the mix, should provide for an exceedingly dynamic offense for Ohio State in 2019.