History and tradition are not taken lightly at Ohio State.
Over the program's storied past, the Buckeyes' starting running back has been among the most coveted and immortalized positions on the team.
Just take a look at the northern end zone of Ohio Stadium. Seven retired numbers perpetually grace the divide between the mid-level B-deck and the upper-level C-deck. If you take a closer look at the names, six of those honored have played running back at Ohio State.
Chic Harley brought Ohio State to national glory in the 1910s carrying the ball, while Les Horvath (also played QB), Howard Cassady, Vic Janowicz, Archie Griffin, and Eddie George all won Heisman trophies doing the same. The program's historic offensive focal point is clear: power running, three yards and a cloud of dust, and running through, not around, the line of scrimmage.
In more recent times, Chris "Beanie" Wells, whose 24th birthday happens to be today, solidified himself as that style of running back.
Although Beanie will probably never have his name enshrined permanently at Ohio Stadium, he may have been the last running back to be the offense's focal point for years to come.
Historically, Ohio State's coaching staffs have relied heavily on power running backs to carry the offense down the field. However, with Urban Meyer and the new staff, things are definitely going to change, meaning Beanie could be the last great back for the foreseeable future as the Urban spread focuses on smaller running backs and lighter carry loads.
Much like the running backs who preceded him at Ohio State, Beanie was a workhorse during his time at Ohio State.
A former top recruit in the nation and consensus 5-star running back from Garfield High in Akron, Beanie fulfilled his duties as a Buckeye power back, failing to ever carry the ball less than 100 times during his three-year tenure.
As a freshman, slotted behind then-senior Antonio Pittman on the depth chart, Beanie carried the ball 104 times for 576 yards and seven touchdowns. Of those seven touchdowns, the one that really stood out the most will forever be ingrained in our minds. Obviously, the run from mid-field vs. second-ranked Michigan, in the #1 vs. #2 game, allowed Beanie to emerge as the feature back that he was bound to become, only he was able to become that back earlier than expected.
As a sophomore, he showed the world why he was the nation's top recruit. Beanie carried the ball 274 times. That's right, 274 times (over 20 times per game) for 1,609 yards and 15 scores, which really demonstrated Coach Jim Tressel's desire to pound the ball up the middle, just as Woody Hayes had established. Beanie was the perfect running back for the offense and helped lead Ohio State back to the BCS National Title for the second straight year.
After his sophomore season, Beanie was added to the shortlist for the 2008 Heisman Trophy, due to his stellar 2007 performance.
However, the season would be a glimpse into how his professional career has played out to this point.
In the first game of his junior season, Beanie injured his toe en route to a 43-0 Ohio State victory.
The injury would force him to sit out the next two games where Ohio State narrowly escaped Ohio University and a 35-3 loss to Southern Cal, arguably the biggest regular season game in the last decade, in Los Angeles. Of course that USC team was filled with studs such as Brian Cushing, Clay Mathews, Rey Maualuga, Taylor Mays, and Mark Sanchez, just to name a few, but Beanie sitting out of the game allowed it to reach a lopsided embarrassment.
Beanie did return post-USC to accumulate 1,197 total rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 207 carries during an injury-plagued season, still great statistics for any college back.
As the Arizona Cardinals first round pick in 2009 and an injury-filled campaign in his first two seasons, Beanie accumulated 1,047 and 10 touchdowns in the 2011 campaign, the best of his professional career. However, injuries (once again) sidelined Beanie throughout the season, disallowing him from gaining even more yards.
He has already started the 2012 season from the sideline, missing the first preseason game of the year. He was just taken off the PUP list today and can resume playing.
Injuries aside, Beanie can definitely be included on the very long list of successful Ohio State running backs.
No Need for Beanie-Types?
In Tressel's remaining tenure at Ohio State, pounding the ball on the ground continued to be the theme.
His successor, Dan "Boom" Herron, was an extremely successful running back at Ohio State, carrying the ball over 100 times in three seasons and over 200 times in one of those seasons.
With Coach Meyer taking over, the backfield will completely change.
In Meyer's tenure at Florida, only twice did a running back have more than 100 carries (DeShawn Wynn in '06 and Kestahn Moore in '07). That's right, 100 carries. I just mentioned that Beanie carried the ball 274 times one season.
In reality, the need for a big powerful back to carry the ball all game is just not there in the Meyer offense. Instead of just one power back getting the call 25 times or so per game, Meyer uses all different types of offensive weapons to carry the rock, such as Percy Harvin, Tim Tebow, Jeff Demps, and Brandon James, leaving man to believe we have seen the end of a long era of big, bruising backs tearing apart defenses at Ohio State.
I say "many believe" because, quite frankly, Meyer has never had a back like Beanie Wells on his rosters at Florida, Utah, or Bowling Green. When approached this spring about the differences in using running backs in his sytem compared to traditional OSU rushers, the new head coach stated that he had always wanted a back he could lean on and now that he is in Columbus, that is something he could potentially work into his offense.
While the expectation is that all-purpose backs cut in the mold of 2013 recruit Ezekiel Elliott will be the type of players targeted by Meyer, there may indeed be room for the Bri'onte Dunn's of the world. Talents like the freshman back from Canton that the new staff is inheriting will have a large role in the Buckeye offense moving forward, potentially making the OSU spread attack more lethal than even Meyer's national championship units we saw at Florida.
So, does it end here with the great tradition of running backs? Will the next series of retired numbers be dual-threat quarterbacks and multi-purpose athletes or will Meyer adapt to the culture in Columbus and find a way to work in "the next Beanie Wells" into his offensive success? Only time will tell.
Like Father, Like Son
I just had to throw in a few lines about Beanie's son, Christin. Although he is just a toddler, he's already in training to be the next Buckeye back.
If anyone attended the Ohio State vs. Michigan State basketball game at the Schott this past season (yes, the one we lost at home), you'll recall them introducing Beanie Wells at the half accompanied by his son.
Christin was beyond excited by the attention and while most kids shy away from the pressure of being in the spotlight, he thrived. Christin was running (fast, may I add) after Brutus, giving people high fives, and waving to the crowd. He's definitely ready to be "that" back and follow in his father's footsteps and a true Buckeye.
Although it remains unforeseen that we have another Beanie-type back in the near future, here's to hoping the next one shares the same genes and the same last name. We only have to wait about 15 more seasons for the to come true.
Once again, Happy Birthday to Beanie. We hope to see Christin wearing number 28 for the Buckeyes.