The Perfect Ball Carrier

By Joe Beale on April 13, 2011 at 4:00p
Eastern Michigan never looked so slow.Jaamal Berry: Not one to be left behind.

Spring football is in the air and Ohio State fans are starting to emerge from their scandal-induced shells to focus on scrimmages and position battles. Most of the attention is centered on the quarterback position, and rightly so since Terrelle Pryor will not be available for the first 5 games of the season. However, at Ohio State the running game is still king, and the RB position is equally important for the success of the offense in 2011.

The departure of Brandon Saine and the suspension of Boom Herron have created an enormous opportunity for four youngsters eager to show what they can do. At this point, no one knows whether it will be Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde, Roderick Smith, or Jordan Hall toting the rock for the Buckeyes at the beginning of the season, but we do know they have big shoes to fill. Herron rushed for nearly 1200 yards last season, and he was at his best in big games when the team needed his production the most.

As I was analyzing the battle at this position, I decided that each of the runners had his own particular strengths, and that some combination of the backs would probably be a perfect mixture of those strengths. However, looking back through the glorious history of great running backs at OSU, it's easy to see that none of them were truly perfect. There are essentially three main areas where a running back might excel, and those are speed, power, and elusiveness. While there are other aspects of the position that are important (receiving, pass blocking), most of the great ones excelled in one or more of the main three categories.

It is inevitable that young players are compared with greats from the past, especially when the youngsters in question have not played enough to make an impression on the fans. However, I thought it might be interesting to make some comparisons based on the little we do know about current crop of OSU ball carriers. Here is a breakdown based on the three main categories, with an eye toward comparing the young guys with the legends.


When looking at Buckeye running backs of the past, there is no shortage of guys who could fly. Archie Griffin, Calvin Murray, Tim Spencer, Robert Smith, Eddie George, Michael Wiley, Antonio Pittman, and Beanie Wells were all deadly breakaway threats. Even a guy like Keith Byars, who was mostly known for his power running, frequently left opponents in his dust. Of these, the one who stands out to me is Robert Smith. Smith could take even the most ordinary play and turn it into a long touchdown run. I once saw him take a sweep play 80 yards for a TD against Purdue on a play where I wasn't even sure he would get around the end. Smith's time at OSU was regrettably short, but he had more long TD runs in that time than I've seen from anyone else.

Of the current Buckeyes, Jaamal Berry seems like the one who has the best breakaway potential. He not only has great straight-line speed, but his acceleration is frightening. Jordan Hall has also been impressive in this category. Last season, he left several defenders grasping for air on punt returns. Rod Smith looks good on paper, as his 4.5 40 time seems impressive for a guy that is 220 pounds. However, he played against inferior competition in high school, so it might not be until the spring game that we really see how quickly he gets through a line.


The most powerful runner in OSU history is probably former fullback Pete Johnson, who rushed for 25 touchdowns in 1975. Johnson was known for disappearing in a pile of players and moving the pile downfield several yards. Others who excelled in this category are Keith Byars and Beanie Wells, with Eddie George showing that rare combination of power and breakaway speed. Even Archie Griffin and Antonio Pittman were underrated in this category, both showing surprising punch for guys as small as they were.

Carlos Hyde is the power guy in the current group, with his north-south running style and his powerful lower body. Rod Smith is said to be a strong runner for someone as tall as he is, and his big frame will allow him to continuously put on weight as he matures. Jordan Hall seems to be in the Griffin mold, as he shows more strength than you would expect from a guy who is 5'9".


Archie Griffin sets the standard in this category. The two-time Heisman winner was very difficult to locate as he dodged back and forth between the OSU linemen when he ran. Griffin had tremendous vision, and he ran with great anticipation, seemingly always knowing where the next defender would be. Also excelling in this category were Eddie George, Robert Smith, and Beanie Wells (his leaps over defenders were almost as famous as his "Stiff Arm of Justice").

Among the current Buckeyes, no one is as elusive as Jordan Hall. His punt return against Miami is one of the highlights of the early part of 2010. Surprisingly, Carlos Hyde also seems to have some good moves, as he excels at bouncing plays outside when the middle is jammed up. As for Jaamal Berry, one pundit wrote that he seems to move in three directions.

The one thing that all of the current Buckeyes lack is experience, and that could prove costly in some of the early games. However, there appears to be no lack of talent at the position, and OSU fans can look forward to seeing all of them display their various talents in the first 5 games this season.


Comments Show All Comments

iball's picture

Berry reminds me of Mo C in that pic.

He seems like the most multi-skilled of the RB's at first glance. I don't think top speed is as important as acceleration. Aside from 60+ yard runs, you only need a step to beat most defenders to the end zone. Only guys like Ginn could beat a defender even when that defender had the angle. Berry goes from 0 to 60 in no time. My question is about his vision. You have to be able to see plays developing before they actually develop.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Buckeye Black's picture

Berry's got that Ginn "like" speed.  He isn't as fast, but he can still out run defenders that have an angle on him, at least he did at the high school level.  Berry/Smith seem to be the one two punch we will use with Hall lining up in the slot or in the shot Ginn (maybe we could call it the Hall Pass).  Hyde will probably be the 3rd down back, and that guy that hopefully won't be denied at the goal line (please improve our red zone TD efficiency this year)!!!

thorvath22's picture

Completely agree...berry looks to be our feature back while the other backs are our role players and change of pace guys...I honestly wouldn't have an issue if they changed hall to a wide receiver given he is productive.

slippy's picture

3rd down back has to be solid at pass pro/blitz pickups.  Does Hyde fit that?  Time will tell I guess.

The_Lurker's picture

Should also be a good receiver since he'll be the check down (and in some cases, will slip out of the backfield and be a primary).

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

I am sure we will see all these guys (as with the QB's) in the first two, maybe three games. Should be very interesting.

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

crazybuckfan's picture

I really liked watching the highlight video of Chris "Beanie" Wells stiff arming people....some of my favorite memories

iball's picture

Yes, those videos brought a great deal of joy to my heart, and tingling in my trousers.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Olentangy's picture

this article is a slideshow away from bleacher report. throw yourself up a couple softballs, mention a couple legends over and over, throw in a slideshow and wa-la!! so to recap... eddie george, beanie wells, and robert smith were really good, jamaal berry is quick, and carlos hyde is strong? is that right?

How firm thy friendship

iball's picture

You take "spoiled fan" to whole new level. What do you want for free? Joe probably has hemorrhoids older than you. 


“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Joe Beale's picture

@IBALL: Thanks for the defense...I think.

@OLENTANGY: The forum is open; show us what you can do.

iball's picture

Anytime Joe, if you're gonna be an a-hole, at least be an a-hole with character.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Irricoir's picture

One thing about Hall is that he has great hands to go with great vision. On the Ginn comparison I always felt there was that chance that he would bobble a ball when it was kicked to him. I certainly worried about that with Small. Can you guys recall once where Hall bobbled a Punt or Kickoff return? I almost came to forget about that as a possibility. He is solid in that regard and that is the reason I say put him at the slot. He'd be really dangerous there.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

buckeyedude's picture

There you go again, Irricoir. How come you ain't writin' for 11dub? I was thinking exactly the same thing about Hall. I was pleasantly surprised last year with his play, and believe the kid deserves more playing time. Being that we are going to need more experience at WR, I think he is a shoe-in, if Berry, Hyde or Roderick wins the starting h-back.

BTW, does anyone suppose that Roderick got teased a bit when he was a kid? "Roderick's " don't usually play football for Ohio State. They usually play ball for N'western, Vanderbilt or Yale. That name just cracks me up every time I hear it... Roderick.  What's funny/ironic is that he has struggled to get his grades up. One would think with a name like that, he'd be a straight A student. Maybe I'm being a little too bleacher report, but do you suppose the game day announcers will call him Roderick? LOL. "There he goes! Busting through the line! He's at the 20, the 15, 10, 5, TOUCHDOWN RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRODERICK!"  I bet his parents couldn't decide whether to name him "Rod" or "Rick," so they settled on "Roderick." ROFL. Ah, one never knows, maybe he's the guy to tie and/or beat Archie's two Heisman's.

I digress.

And IBall: nobody likes a bleedin' asshole.

And Olentangy: It's easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize. If you can do better, by all means, knock yourself out, dude.



Irricoir's picture

   I appreciate the sentiment man. I am not as creative as the writers for 11w. I tend to skip past their introductions which often leave me in a state of confusion as of late, and move straight to the facts of the news or updates. I think I am too old to write for this site. If anyone wants to debate stats and evaluate the talent of one of our players, I would be the first to jump on that.

   I have the entire season on DVR and watch it nightly. It drives my wife crazy. She doesn't understand what enjoyment I get out of watching replays of all of those games. "You already know who wins, so what's the point?", is what I hear from her. I wish Tressel had a need for someone to review footage of film and to review talent of promissing recruits. I would sign up today.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

buckeyedude's picture

That's funny dude. I don't know how old you are, but I'm 46, and I feel guilty(somewhat) myself for spending so much time here and occasionally watching OSU reruns that I record. I don't think your wife understands your obsession any more than you would understand her obsession with knitting and Bunco with the neighborhood lady's auxiliary. And(here we go again), I've often thought of what my favorite job would be if I had the balls to change(and could afford it) and leave home(besides being a photographer for Maxim magazine): and, same as you, I would love to be a recruiter for a team like, i dunno, Ohio State. Go around the state, and countr, if need be,  and evaluate the best talent for the #1 team in the country. Damn that would be fun! I do enjoy high school football, and Ohio is one of the best states for that. I wonder if Rivals or Scout is hiring?

You were talking statistics earlier. I wonder what the average or median age of 11W posters and writers is? Do I want to know? Maybe that is the question.



Irricoir's picture

Great question. By writing style I would bet that the average age of the 11w writing staff is probably at 24-26. Wonder if thes guys will volunteer for the reveal?

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Jason Priestas's picture

Alex: 18

Luke: 18

Johnny: 17

Jake: 17

Me: 46

Chris: 47

Corey: 51

Joe: 55

Ramzy: 61

Irricoir's picture

Amazing how I could determine the age of everyone based off of writing styles, if those ages are indeed accurate. The age of Ramzy certainly surprises me. I would have figured him a bit younger than he is, though he is very skilled. I wasn't able to distinguish the exact age of the older gentlemen but I could certainly tell who the younger were. It isn't a knock on their writing but more on the content in the intorductions.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Jason Priestas's picture

Sorry, those were joke ages. I'd guess the median age for the writing staff here is somewhere around 31.

Irricoir's picture

Hehe I am going to look at the writing in the future and post a number without explanation. That will be my guess at the age of the writer.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Luke's picture

I graduated from Ohio State in 2008. I'll leave the hard math up to y'all.

Irricoir's picture

36.6  The old geezers through my guess way off.   /joking

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Joe Beale's picture

OSU class of '89 here.  Doing the math might deceive you a bit, since I was on the John Belushi college plan. 

Joe Beale's picture

Let me also add that I'm definitely the oldest guy on the writing staff, although I've never met Ramzy and I've heard that he and Tim May have never been seen together.

Irricoir's picture

34 btw. I have the mind of a 17 year old and a body that hurts like a 70 year old. Too much abuse issued to it over my youth.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

That is a great question.  I know when I read 11w, I sometimes find myself profiling the writer a bit. 

I'm the same age as Irricoir, but I have to read the intros and check out all the funny/uncanny/insane links that get posted.  I think I follow most the 11w writers that are on twitter and even a few of the regular posters from 11w.  

Chris Lauderback's picture

I'm 37 though some days I feel 18 and other days 81.