Shortly after Ohio State’s 17-7 win over Illinois on Oct. 15, 2011, Carlos Hyde took to his public Twitter account to voice his displeasure due to his lack of playing time. At the time, Hyde alluded to thoughts of transferring to a place he could find a larger role.
Hyde has come a long way on the field since then, competing in fall camp and during the early portion of the season a year ago before earning the starting running back job for the Buckeyes in Urban Meyer’s first season guiding the program.
Hyde rushed for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first season as OSU’s go-to ball carrier, and the combination of size, speed and athleticism he sported in the process made him one of the brightest running back starts heading into the season.
The Buckeyes weren’t supposed to have a void at starting running back this season. But after Hyde was suspended for a minimum of three games following an altercation in which he was involved at a Columbus nightclub, Ohio State has a spot to fill.
Losing Hyde for any amount of time is a blow for the Buckeyes, no doubt, but Meyer is in luck – Ohio State has plenty of options at the position. Below is the list of candidates to pick up the slack in Hyde’s absence.
1. Jordan Hall – After missing the majority of the season with injury, Hall petitioned the NCAA and earned a fifth year of eligibility. That worked out well for the Buckeyes, who now can use his veteran leadership in a time of great need at his position. There’s been plenty of talk during Hall’s entire career about how much of a natural playmaker he is, but truthfully he has yet to do anything of real consistency. This could be his chance to use his small, shifty frame to finally make a difference in OSU’s offense. But is he sturdy enough to take the beating Hyde endured? Probably not, which means he likely won’t be alone in filling Hyde’s absence.
2. Rod Smith – Smith is a fourth-year junior who has gone from someone most figured would only see the field by transferring to a player that could really figure into Ohio State’s plans. Because it doesn’t seem reasonable that Hall will carry the bulk of Hyde’s responsibilities during the nonconference slate, Smith enters fall camp with his team leaning on his broad shoulders. Assuming he has put his fumbling issues behind him – that’s a must – Smith should build on the progress he made last year while being a key factor in whether the Buckeyes get by unscathed without Hyde.
3. Bri’onte Dunn – Dunn didn’t take a redshirt as a freshman last year, and he actually saw some meaningful carries in his first collegiate season. He’s the type of running back Ohio State may stop recruiting – players in the mold of Hyde who run with power and a purpose rather than speed and elusiveness – but while he’s on the team it’s clear Ohio State can find use for him. With continued growth, Dunn could be every bit as successful as Hyde eventually, and the sophomore just took a big step forward in finding more playing opportunity.
4. Warren Ball – Ball has flown under the radar during his short collegiate career because Ohio State has had a stacked backfield, but he could make a strong move toward surprising some people this fall. Not only did Ball have a great spring – running backs coach Stan Drayton spoke the world about his versatility – it looks like he’s made tremendous progress in the weight room (check it out here). Remember, Ball is a former four-star recruit that was rated by Scout.com as the No. 21 running back in the 2012 class. He isn’t a pushover.
5. Ezekiel Elliott/Dontre Wilson/Jalin Marshall – Meyer said during an appearance on ESPN this afternoon that the “freshman speedsters will have to play.”
That’s probably exciting news for Buckeye fans, as all three newcomers join Ohio State with promises of dynamic playmaking ability Meyer said was lacking on the roster he inherited in December 2011. Elliott is the most diverse of the three, as he can carry the ball between the tackles or make plays as a receiver out of the backfield. However, Wilson and Marshall bring speed and elusiveness that could mean the entire world to OSU’s still-evolving offense. It’s hard for freshmen to see the field at a place like Ohio State, but these three may have the talent to all find a role.
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