Ohio State’s spring practice is fast approaching. The Buckeyes have already started training for the 2016 season and the team will take the field for the first time March 8. With nine underclassmen and a number of seniors departing from the 2015 team that went 12-1, there are questions surrounding plenty of position groups for the 2016 Buckeyes. BuckeyeSports.com is taking a look at those positions and how they might be sorted out between now and the Ohio State April 16 Spring Game.
The Departed: Well, Warren Ball was honored on Senior Day and has since announced that he’s heading to Akron to play his final season, but that’s obviously not the running back loss that will have the biggest impact on the Buckeyes. Ezekiel Elliott is off to the NFL and he was the running back position at Ohio State last season. At times, he was the entire offense. Elliott carried the ball 289 times for 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior in 2015, and he showed he could play with the best of them when he rushed for well over 200 yards in each of the Buckeyes’ three postseason games in 2014. Elliott will have to be replaced, and just one player might not do the trick.
The Contenders: In pole position to start at running back for Ohio State next season is – well, nobody, probably. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of talent, but Bri’onte Dunn – the lone senior running back coming back for the Buckeyes – carried the ball just 14 times last season, though he did manage 91 yards for a 6.5 yard-per-carry average. After arriving in Columbus as a highly-touted five star, Dunn hasn’t exactly made a name for himself. He played as a true freshman before redshirting his second season and was at one point in time close to being on his way out the door. Since then, head coach Urban Meyer has sung Dunn’s praises, meaning who could be a factor in 2016. Redshirt-freshman Mike Weber also has a shot to be the feature back for the Buckeyes. He didn’t see the field last season, though he might have had it not been for a preseason injury, but there was plenty of praise for Weber throughout the year from what he did on the practice field. Beyond Dunn and Weber, there’s always a chance that Curtis Samuel – who started one game at running back over Elliott in 2014 – could switch back to the backfield, but the coaching staff might want to keep him in the slot at least part time. Then there’s true freshman Antonio Williams, who will have a chance to prove himself this spring, but he has an uphill battle to get past Dunn, Weber or Samuel on the depth chart.
How It Might Shake Out: As was stated above, one person probably isn’t going to equal the production that Elliott brought to the table for Ohio State. That means there will be plenty of carries to go around with no one player becoming a true feature back, at least to start the season. Dunn might get the start in the opener since he’s the most experienced of Ohio State’s backs, but Weber is likely the most talented, assuming Samuel stays at H. At this point the likeliest scenario might be Dunn starting on day one with Weber eventually winning the job while the two of them and Samuel all contribute plenty of work in the backfield. As for Williams, well, he should see the field at least, which at Ohio State these days could be seen as a big accomplishment.