It would be fair if you forgot who Bri’onte Dunn was. He hasn’t appeared in a game since his freshman season, a year he introduced himself as the future Ohio State running back in a season the Buckeyes finished undefeated. That backfield can become clogged, though.
So when Dunn was a healthy redshirt last season, there was reason to believe out of sight meant out of mind. Ezekiel Elliott impressed as a true freshman, Warren Ball finally earned playing time and who could leave out Rod Smith. It looked like things quickly turned upside down for the up-and-coming Dunn.
He opted for a different attitude. Dunn took his scout team reps serious and became a better runner without appearing in a single game. Instead of transferring, which he said was never a possibility, Dunn withstood the competition and enters 2014 as a piece of the offensive playbook.
“Redshirting is tough,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said, “especially after playing your freshman year. We asked him to take a step back in his development and get in the weight room, get stronger and get his body right. He did just that, and now he has another opportunity. He’s hungry again.”
Demotions are never easy, which led to frustration and disappointment for Dunn. But once he understood the reasons behind his redshirt, he became a model teammate. Nearly a year later, he’s vying with a stable of tailbacks to be the No. 1 option.
The reasons why have been on display throughout the spring. Acceleration, vision, speed and elusiveness are all part of Dunn’s repertoire. With one stutter-step in a recent practice, he broke through the heart of the defense and outran the secondary for a 50-yard gain.
“I’m starting to see Bri’onte act like he knows what in the hell is going on, excuse my language.” – Stan Drayton
“Everybody’s in the mix right now. There’s no depth chart right now on the running back side,” Dunn said. “Everybody is going hard and fighting for a spot.
“I’m going four to six seconds from point A to point B like Coach Meyer says. I have to know my plays and just be me. I have to be a physical back, just go do what I do.”
That includes blocking, one of the least favorite activities for running backs. But the 6-foot, 216-pound Dunn doesn’t shy away from contact whether the ball is in his hands or not. Colliding with defensive ends and linebackers is part of the glamorous job description, something Dunn didn’t always embrace.
“I’m starting to see Bri’onte act like he knows what in the hell is going on, excuse my language,” Drayton said in a serious tone. “He’s learned the offense and he’s starting to play fast. We’re starting to see the things that Bri’onte already had within himself, but is now coming through in his execution. It’s just a matter of him becoming a student of the game. Now he’s playing it fast.”
When significant playing time once again became possible, a new Dunn emerged from the shadows. Spirits remained high last year, but he knew adjustments were needed. Dunn averaged more than five yards per carry as a true freshman, even garnering Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after a 73-yard, one-touchdown outing against Illinois.
Still, instant success doesn’t equate to a career filled with rushing yards and touchdowns. Dunn proved that by starting slowly last spring. It set in motion the events that resulted in his playing time disappearing.
Meyer relayed a message to Dunn: bulk up and learn the playbook. He heeded that advice and approached the spring of 2014 with a newfound hunger.
Said Drayton: “Now, he’s got another opportunity again.”