The Ohio State offense has been setting records since Urban Meyer took over as head coach, and that shouldn't be changing anytime soon. One of the staples of this offense has been a power-running tailback, whether that's Carlos Hyde or Ezekiel Eliott.
With Elliott not participating much this spring in an effort to save him for the coming season, and Curtis Samuel playing mostly at wide receiver, it has opened up some playing time for others at the position. Who is taking advantage of these opportunities?
Brionte Dunn. Canton GlenOak. Has continued to grind away and look for reps wherever he can get them the past three years. Was impressive on special teams throughout the playoff run, and now is getting his shot to prove he can be a capable backup to Elliott. Dunn looked really good last Saturday, in every aspect of the position and he got almost all of the meaningful first team reps. He blocked well, caught the football, and ran hard when given the chance. In short, he looked like a player. Will Samuel go back to being the second team tailback in the fall, or Will Dunn prove himself worthy of the job? That remains to be seen, but I'm convinced he has the talent needed to play at this level and in this offense. I first saw Brionte as a freshman in high school, and have been sold ever since. I invited him to our Scout Combine in Pittsburgh when he was a 15-year old, and at the time we were mostly inviting guys like Johnny Simon and Storm Klein. When I sent in his registration, someone from Scout chided me for inviting a "baby." When Brionte walked through the door at 6-foot, 200-pounds, that same person asked "who is that?" I replied that was the baby, and should I tell him to leave? As their jaw hit the ground, they told me "No, he can stay." I really hope Dunn ends his career with a ton of carries, because I have never wavered on his skill set.
Warren Ball. Columbus DeSales. Has been bothered by injuries, and has never gotten the chance to show what he can do in games. Like Dunn, I believe Ball has the talent needed to play at Ohio State, but how can you get time with guys like Hyde and Elliott in the program? This could be the case like last year with the quarterbacks, where it takes a rash of injuries to get a player on the field, but once you see them they show they belong. Ball remains one of only two players I nominated for a national citizenship award in all the years I've been doing this job. To put my name behind someone I have to KNOW they are exceptional, not guess. After meeting Warren Ball and his family, there was no need to guess. Will be a success in life, without question. I can only hope he gets his shot to prove he can play the tailback position at Ohio State. With the talent on hand, and the talent coming in down the road, that just might not happen for Ball. But I believe he can play, and like Cardale Jones last year, you never know until you see them facing live bullets.
Ezekiel Elliott. St. Louis Burroughs. When Zeke and his offensive line weren't very good against Navy and Virginia Tech, the Ohio State offense sputtered. Fast forward to games against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, and you saw a running attack that trampled people. That's exactly how I view this offense. When the power running tailback is loose, it's impossible to defend. When they aren't grinding meat between the guards, it becomes very perimeter oriented and easier to defend. Hence, to me, you'd better have a physical runner at the tailback spot, not one of the specialty guys on a full time basis. I first saw Zeke in Illinois at the Nike camp, and like Warren Ball, once you meet the kid and his family, you are instantly impressed. I knew he would be good, but I never thought he would be Eddie George as a sophomore. Much like George was surrounded by Booby Hoying, Terry Glenn, Rickey Dudley and Orlando Pace, Zeke is also surrounded by great talent. But, in the same way as Eddie, this offense runs through Zeke, and the quarterbacks benefit from his talents. Not the other way around. Elliott makes this offense go, and everything else follows his lead. He can win the Heisman Trophy this season if all goes well for him. This should be his last season at Ohio State, so enjoy the talent while you can. Elliott is special.
With Elliott likely to leave after this season, it's Go-Time for both Ball and Dunn. Mike Weber is going to play as a freshman, barring injury. Kareem Walker will play as a freshman, in all likelihood. Either Ball and Dunn show they can play over the next few months, or that party is likely over for both. Didn't see much out of Ball, but Dunn certainly looked the part last Saturday.