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Sleepers of the Room: Running back injuries open the door for Steele Chambers

Ohio State’s redshirt freshman running back could find himself second on the depth chart this season

Ohio State v Rutgers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Welcome back to our Sleepers of the Room series, where we take a look at each position group and find the player who tends to fly under the radar—the guy you may have never heard of, but who you should get to know ASAP.

Next up: the running back room

Occupants: Demario McCall (RS-SR), Trey Sermon (SR), Master Teague (RS-SO), Marcus Crowley (SO), Steele Chambers (RS-FR) and Miyan Williams (FR).

If you’ve been staying up to date on Ohio State’s running back saga this offseason, then the last few months probably went something like this:

Dec. 28— As soon as Dobbins took his last snap as a Buckeye, you were all-in on Master Teague the Third. Teague finished his red-shirt freshman season with 789 yards rushing—good for seventh-best in the Big Ten—and four touchdowns as Dobbin’s backup. Sure, his Fiesta Bowl performance worried you a little (he ran for just 9 yards on seven carries against Clemson), but you were all like “No worries! Teague has the whole offseason to get bigger, faster, stronger!”

March 3— One day into spring practice, you read that Teague has been added to Ohio State’s status report with an Achilles injury. And while they’re “optimistic” that he’ll still play this season, he could be out for six months. So you’re all like “Uhhh...our starting sophomore running back can’t practice until AUGUST?”

March 3 to March 22— You went from “Just hand over the national championship trophy already” to “Will we score a touchdown at all this season?” Not only is Teague’s status for the season still an unknown, but the guys behind him are also injured and/or inexperienced. Marcus Crowley suffered a knee injury against Maryland on Nov. 9 and was listed as unavailable for spring practice. No one knows what position Demario McCall plays anymore, and you two have trust issues anyway. The only two RBs left are Steele Chambers and freshman signee Miyan Williams who’s arriving in the summer. Are these youngsters ready to take snaps as the starting running back for one of the best teams in the country if it comes down to it? Also, when do you think they’ll let us leave our houses?

March 22— Ahhh yes. March 22. The day of the “BOOM” heard ‘round the world, when Oklahoma Sooners graduate-transfer Trey Sermon confirmed to Austin Ward of Lettermen Row that he was transferring to Ohio State for the 2020 season. Sermon rushed for over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns in three seasons with the Sooners, his best season being 2018 when he rushed for 947 yards and 13 touchdowns. Ohio State desperately needed an experienced Power Five running back in its lineup, and Sermon was it.

Fast-forward to late July, and we still have questions we thought would be answered by now. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling in-person practices and workouts, we’re left wondering: Was Sermon worth the hype? What’s Teague and Crowley’s status? If they’re still injured, can Sermon pull off a one-man show similar to Dobbins and Zeke?

In our Leaders of the Room series, our own Matt Tamanini attempted to answer those very questions, and while he did name Sermon as the most likely candidate to take most of the snaps come Game 1, it’s a little more complicated than that.

“I don’t see the Buckeyes having a distinct leader in this room; rather I expect Day to employ a RB-by-committee approach, especially if Teague is approaching 100 percent as the season progresses.

...I see the season starting with Sermon getting about 50-60 percent of the carries, with the staff easing Teague into things, getting about 20-30, and then all other healthy backs splitting the final 20.

I’d say you see Sermon for most of the first quarter, but Teague gets the fourth series of the game. Then, as OSU you builds a lead, Sermon gets two series in the second quarter, before both being shut down sometime in the third.

As the season goes on, and Teague proves that he is able to shoulder the weight of increased carries, I think that we end up seeing him and Sermon meeting in the middle at about 40 percent each (give or take a few on either side), and everyone else taking the remaining 20 percent in clean-up duties.

Matt isn’t convinced Sermon or a coming-off-of-an-injury-Teague have what it takes to be the difference-making back that we’re used to seeing on Ohio State’s offense. But his proposed group effort idea just might work considering they’ll be lining up behind one of the best offensive lines in the country with a dual-threat QB right beside them.

So, if Matt’s proposed plan actually happens, that means the other healthy backs will split 20 percent of the carries, and I’d suspect Crowley will be the first name called off the bench. Last season as a true freshman, he had 25 carries for 237 yards and a touchdown. If healthy, he could see substantial playing time behind Sermon and Teague. However, Crowley is still nursing an ACL injury, and while Ohio State’s coaching staff are hopeful that he will be back in action this season, there’s still no guarantee.

So again, the situation is this: Ohio State has Sermon, who shows immense promise but will likely not replicate Dobbins’ 2,003-yard performance by himself. Instead, he’ll share snaps with Teague, who, along with Crowley, are still questionable in terms of health. Even if Teague and Crowley are back to 100 percent, they each missed out on months of practicing, and there’s still the chance that they’ll be more cautious on the field so as not to re-injure themselves.

Which brings me to the main point of this article: You might want to get to know Steele Chambers, also known as the only Ohio State running back who ended the spring both healthy and with a full season of experience on his resume.

A former four-star, Chambers was recruited by Ohio State as an athlete, and by Clemson as a linebacker. He ultimately found himself a home at running back, and is expected to stay there for his entire collegiate career.

“The 6-foot-1, 220-pound tailback has a bit of a different build than the rest of the tailbacks on the roster, which makes him an intriguing long-term option – provided he stays at the position, as expected,” writes Colin Hass-Hill of Eleven Warriors.

While redshirting as a true freshman last season, Chambers racked up 135 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, highlighted by a 61-yard, one-score performance against Miami (Ohio), averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He also totaled 16 yards on two touches against Cincinnati, and ran 56 yards on nine carries against Rutgers.

If Day keeps McCall at slot receiver—which is where he practiced during the three spring practices in March—if Crowley remains inactive and God forbid Teague tweaks his Achilles again at some point during the season, Chambers could find himself as the second RB on the depth chart.

And if Ohio State running back coach Tony Alford isn’t overlooking Chambers, we shouldn’t either. Here’s what he had to say about his RB in late spring:

“Well, Steele Chambers wasn’t overlooked within our walls,” Alford said. “But yeah, he was anticipating getting a ton of reps in the spring and he was excited about that. But the reps that he did have, I think he’s growing up. You can see the maturation process. For example, in the meeting rooms, he’s more vocal. He’s always been very attentive. He’s a highly motivated guy; he’s very hard on himself. He’s almost — and I hate to use this word — a perfectionist. But I will use that word.

“So, he’s a guy that you can see is going to be a good player. He’s a big back. He’s a big guy and wants to improve on his skills. And again, I thought the three practices that we did have in the spring, he was showing that he had definitely improved from the previous fall, as he should.”

You know who else was known for being “hard on himself” and a “perfectionist”? That’s right... Dobbins. And no, I’m not saying Chambers will be the next J.K. (ya never know!), but it certainly doesn’t hurt that they have similar qualities and work ethics, right?

So, if I were you, I’d let go of your high expectations for Ohio State’s injured running back room, and leave room in your brain for the possibility of a Trey Sermon-Steele Chambers duo. Either way, whether Sermon does it by himself or if it takes a village, we’ll still put up 200+ rushing yards on Michigan.