While head coach Urban Meyer and running backs coach Stan Drayton both spoke highly of freshman Bri'onte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith, the sheet of paper could prove to be obsolete by the weekend. Drayton told reporters Monday that senior Jordan Hall has been medically cleared and wants to return for OSU's home noon kickoff Saturday against California.
Hall was projected to be the Buckeyes' starter at tailback this season but a torn tendon in his foot suffered when he stepped on broken glass during the summer kept him on the sidelines. Junior Carlos Hyde stepped in and won the starting job in the preseason, but he will miss at least the Cal game because of a sprained medial collateral ligament.
That pushed Dunn and Smith to the top of the depth chart. The pair has a combined 47 career carries, so if Hall is ready, he will likely start. Hall will show his coaches whether he will be a go or not this week during practice. "We're hoping he can play the whole ballgame, but he's a young man who has been out for 10 weeks," Drayton said. "Six of those weeks he was in a (walking) boot. We're going to get out there and see how his conditioning level is, and he has not had contact.
"We're going to see how his body reacts to contact and go from there."
Drayton added that Hall's status should be known by Wednesday.
If Hall is unable to go, both Meyer and Drayton voiced confidence in Dunn and Smith. A five-star prospect from Canton (Ohio) GlenOak, Dunn has 12 carries on the season for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith, a four-star recruit from Fort Wayne (Ind.) Paul Harding, has dealt with ball control issues in his brief stints on the field as a Buckeye. This season, he has carried six times for 26 yards and fumbled once against Central Florida.
"For both of them it was just a matter of they were thrown in the fire," said Drayton of the duo's performances against UCF. "They had some missed assignments. I think there was a lack of focus at times. You're talking about two guys who have not had a whole lot of playing experience at this level. They showed their inexperience."
Also a possibility to get extra carries if Hall is a no-go is senior Zach Boren. The fullback has nine carries on the year for 26 yards and a touchdown.
While Ohio State does boast the Big Ten's leading rusher, that person happens to be sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. The signal caller has gained 302 yards on 44 carries, but that also means he has taken more hits than anyone at Ohio State is comfortable with.
"Some of the carries are a result of errors at other positions," Meyer said. "We have to play better around him to eliminate some of those carries."
Both Meyer and Drayton said practices on Tuesday and Wednesday will be key to determining who will lineup at tailback against the Golden Bears. Not only will Hall, Dunn and Smith have to show the ability to carry the football, but they'll also have to do more without it.
"They have to run the ball effectively, no doubt, but they have to be solid in protection," Drayton said. "We're going to ask those guys to do things in the pass game from a route standpoint. They have to be able to read defenses and make adjustments in their routes.
"There's a lot of things that have to be checked off that list before they are cleared to play."
If Hall is unable to go, Drayton said one of the younger backs will carry the football – whether they are ready to or not.
"We can't go into this ballgame with the thought process of not having a running back," he said. "They'll be ready to play. The amount of which they play will be determined by how well they practice."
Through Monday, Drayton was not worried.
"Right now, I'm not nervous because we haven't had our first practice of the week," he said. "But if it starts to look like it did on game day, then I will become very, very nervous."