Running Back Depth Good ... Just Not Today

Ohio State fans – and running backs coach Dick Tressel – have salivated as the Buckeyes have recruited plenty of talented rushers the past few years. However, there will be a bit of a wait to see it all in action as half of the unit battles injury. Of course, injury means opportunity, and some youngsters are impressing as camp continues.

For all the talk about how much depth the Ohio State football team has at tailback, there weren't that many players on display as the Buckeyes went through spring practice No. 5 on Thursday.

Of the six scholarship tailbacks on the roster for spring, half were sporting yellow non-contact jerseys in starter Brandon Saine and backups Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde. That left Dan Herron, Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry to handle the lion's share of the time in the two-hour practice session.

So much for sixth-year coach Dick Tressel having more backs than he knows what to do with, but along with the injuries comes peace of mind to the sixth-year position coach. As of yet, he hasn't had to begin the process of whittling down reps and apportioning the one football between numerous talented players.

"I haven't seen any frustration, but there were only four guys (counting walk-on Bo DeLande) out there today," Tressel said. "They were getting tired, so that's good."

Instead, the frustration came for such players as Saine, who was on the sideline going through rehab for a tweaked hamstring muscle.

"I want to be out there," Saine said. "You see the competition, all the yelling and everybody getting into it. I'm just over here standing and I can't do anything, saying, ‘Please don't run into me.' "

Saine should get his chance to return by next week, but true freshman Hyde is on a longer timetable because of a hamstring injury and sophomore Martin continues to battle the aftereffects of what Tressel called asthma thanks to what was believed to be allergic reaction to a cat.

The good news is that in years past, such maladies would have left the Buckeyes with a hodgepodge of walk-ons and fill-ins taking over the duties while others returned to health. This year, there are three pretty good players working out in Herron, Hall and Berry.

Herron has the most experience, having spent the past two seasons as the co-No. 1 back first with Chris Wells and then last year with Saine. In that span, Herron has shown a knack for running between the tackles, totaling 1,039 yards on 242 carries (a 4.3-yard average) with 13 touchdowns.

"I'm just getting better overall," he said of spring work. "Every way that I can, I'm just doing everything better."

While Herron's abilities to hold on to the football, ferret out extra yards and move the chains provide the Buckeyes with a solid option in the backfield, fans might be more excited to see more of the two youngsters with whom he is sharing time.

Hall is the more known commodity after impressing with his vision and quickness in limited action in 2009. For the year, he finished with 248 yards on 48 carries, giving him 5.2 yards per try and a touchdown.

So far, he's raised eyebrows in camp according to some reports, and his speed and toughness as a runner were nearly impossible to miss Thursday as he spent time nearly equal to Herron's with the No. 1 unit.

"Jordan, he's a great back," Saine said of Hall, who has changed his jersey from No. 29 to 7. "He might look small if he walks by you, but he's one of the strongest of the group. He might have the strongest bench out of all of us. He's able to hide behind the linemen and he's really shifty."

That's another word Saine used to describe Berry, a highly touted prospect out of Miami who missed the 2009 season with leg injuries. He has drawn attention for his skills, with the coaching staff nearly burning his redshirt midway through the campaign, and also showed some attitude when jawing with Dominic Clarke during a goal-line drill Thursday.

"What you're seeing out of Jaamal Berry right now is the ability to have a little burst and a little juice, but he hasn't played," Tressel said. "He still has to go through a learning curve. You're seeing the talent but you're seeing a guy progressing through a learning curve."

Add in Saine, who rushed for a position-best 739 yards last year and shined in the Rose Bowl both rushing and receiving, and it's clear the top part of the rotation is in good hands. Then there's Hyde, a bruiser who impressed Tressel before his leg injury, and Martin, who looked good in a cameo last season with a rumbling 39-yard TD vs. Minnesota.

With that, it's easy to see why Tressel was all smiles when addressing reporters.

"It's safe to say we have a lot of options," he said. "I would go one step further and say lots of good options, so that's even better. Certainly since Jim Tressel has been here, I would say there are more good options (than ever)."

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