COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mike Weber could handle the work by himself in the Ohio State backfield. But that doesn’t mean he should, particularly since it looks like it shouldn’t be necessary.
Weber has shown he’s more than capable of the baseline requirements as a running back after becoming just the third player in the school’s decorated history to rush for 1,000 yards as a freshman. He can be a threat as a receiver. He’s a physical presence unafraid to contribute as a blocker. He’s also added to his knowledge of the position, allowing him to be a better leader as well.
All of that is a positive for running backs coach Tony Alford, because he knows there’s at least one guy he can count on in the backfield. But while he’s fond of joking that he doesn’t have a crystal ball any time he’s asked if or how the Buckeyes will distribute carries this season, the roster is almost begging for a committee approach.
That’s not a knock on Weber’s ability. If anything, giving him some support should only make Ohio State’s rushing attack more effective.
“I do think that having one guy, that’s a special person to be able to do that because of the beating that you take, the pounding that you take week in and week out,” Alford said. “To go an entire season with one guy is very unique.
“Here’s what I prefer — I prefer whatever works for our football team to have success. If that means it takes two guys, three guys or if it takes one, I’m good. … We’re going to do whatever is in the best interest of this football team to win and have success. If that’s by committee, that’s how it will be.”
What would make the group approach different for the Buckeyes is they wouldn’t be forced to do it to mask weaknesses and keep the offense moving. Ohio State has an elite talent on top of the depth chart when Weber’s hamstrings are 100 percent, which they’re expected to be on Thursday at Indiana. But it also has guys with dynamic skill sets behind him that don’t need to be wasted watching from the sideline.
J.K. Dobbins hasn’t played in a game yet. But it’s become readily apparent throughout training camp that the freshman needs the football in his hands this season. Sophomore Demario McCall’s game-breaking ability has been on display in flashes so far, and his speed and elusiveness beg for new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to get him involved. Sophomore Antonio Williams continues to present himself as a viable candidate for work, junior Parris Campbell will need touches in the H-back role and senior quarterback J.T. Barrett will be a rushing threat again as well.
That would limit the touches for Weber and make it hard for him to win any dinner bets with Penn State’s Saquon Barkley or LSU’s Derrius Guice. But it also might make the opportunities Weber does get even more impactful if he’s fresher, though that’s an age-old debate with tailbacks.
Freshness or rhythm?
Maybe Weber needs 20 or 25 carries to be the most effective version of himself. If so, maybe Dobbins and McCall will need to remain patient and let the lead pony run. But the crystal ball of this outsider shows the Buckeyes operating at their best when the whole stable is let loose.
“You love having them fresh,” Alford said. “But then there’s also that thing of, does the guy get into a rhythm, does he not get into a rhythm? It just depends.
“If you have plenty of guys who can do it, then why wouldn’t you put them out there and let them go?”
Ohio State doesn’t need to go full-blown wishbone and get them all out there at once.
But the more talented rushers the Buckeyes get involved this season, the better they all should be when it’s their turn to work.
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