They're treating each practice like it's a game situation.
It's easy to see why. One of them will take fifth-year senior Dan "Boom" Herron's spot as the starting tailback when the Buckeyes kick off against Akron. Opportunity plus several running backs who look like they're ready to play equals highly competitive practices.
"There are a lot of us here, but we're working hard every play to make each other better," sophomore Jaamal Berry said. "We're taking every rep like it's a game situation and hopefully … we'll see who is the starter."
With Herron sidelined for the first five games of the season while he serves a NCAA suspension, four main candidates have emerged to take his spot. Junior Jordan Hall gives the Buckeyes a little bit of everything. He's quick, elusive and has spent time with OSU's wide receivers during the preseason learning how to be better utilized as a unique weapon.
"I just think I'm a versatile player," Hall said. "I can make plays at receiver, running back, wherever. That's what I'm trying to do. I just want to help the team and do what I can do. That's what we're going to need."
Berry and redshirt freshmen Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith have also seen plenty of reps during the first handful of practices. Berry has shown the quick burst that excited Buckeye fans when he came to Columbus from Miami (Fla.) Palmetto. Hyde has arguably been the surprise of camp, surging up the depth chart and looking like a major threat to take Herron's spot. Smith, still raw after sitting out last season, has the most impressive frame among the running backs and features a mix of size and speed that have reminded some of a young Eddie George.
"I think all of us have unique running styles," Berry said. "We have (smaller) backs that have more quickness than the bigger backs, but (the bigger backs) bring different things to the table. And we all bring power.
"It's going to be fun to see what we're going to do this year with all of these talented backs."
If it seems like Berry has a positive attitude about he and his position mates, that's no mistake. The competition among the rushers is strong but so is the bond between the players.
"We don't really go back and forth on negative terms, but on positive terms," Hyde said. "We keep telling each other good job and to keep running hard and stay low through the hole and explode. It is all positive."
Herron is also doing his best to make sure Ohio State does not miss a step in the backfield. When not taking reps himself, the Warren (Ohio) Harding product plays the role of team cheerleader. He encourages his younger teammates after seemingly every play.
While there will likely be only one starting tailback when the offense takes the field against Akron, it is likely several running backs will get a chance to shine – especially early in the season. Head coach Luke Fickell did not rule out a running back-by-committee situation.
"That's the thing, when you get your opportunities you have to take advantage of them, and if you take advantage of them obviously there will be more opportunities," Fickell said. "There's no substitute for competition."
Ohio State may have to rely more on its rushing game, at least early in the season, because it will have a new quarterback and a young group of wide receivers.
"I think that's going to be the deal," Berry said of the Buckeyes rushing the ball more in 2011. "I think we'll be ready to open the season running the ball."