Options Abound at H-Back

By Kyle Rowland on June 30, 2014 at 8:30a

There are dozens of articles written every year about Ohio State and the tight end position. Fear not, this is not another story proclaiming 2014 to be the season the Buckeyes finally utilize the tight end as a pass-catching phenom. Instead, under Urban Meyer, it’s the H-back position that will be debated with the passage of each season.

The name “Percy Harvin” has already appeared in countless stories since Meyer took over at Ohio State. Until the Buckeyes stumble upon a similar game-breaker, coaches will be on a feverish search – and fans will wonder why there is no dynamic scoring threat.

Ohio State is 24-2 in Meyer’s two season at the helm, but it hasn’t included a legitimate H-back. Year 1 featured a committee with the members failing to turn heads. Philly Brown stepped into the H-back role in 2013 with mixed results. While Brown had a team-high 63 receptions and averaged 10 yards per carry, his production and playmaking ability never fully resonated.

Brown also never became fully integrated or acclimated with the position. It wasn’t heavy on runs and he rarely got the ball near the line of scrimmage. 2014 brings a sense of renewal to Ohio State, with new offensive formations and tweaks in philosophy. Meyer and Tom Herman are eager to turn the H-back into what was envisioned more than two years ago. That picture includes Dontre Wilson.

Before he even played a game, Wilson had outsized expectations that were nearly impossible to live up to. He finished with 250 rushing yards and 210 receiving yards, good numbers that seemed modest because of the superlatives heard in the leadup to his freshman campaign.

Once again, there’s excitement related to Wilson’s game. This time, though, the brakes have been pumped and the accompanying expectations are realistic.

“I feel way better,” Wilson said this spring. “It’s more tiring, but it feels ways better. Now I’m starting at the H, which is the most prolific position in our offense besides running back and quarterback. I’m getting a lot more touches and more involved in the game.”

Herman, whose opinion goes in lockstep with Meyer, came away from spring practice with approval of Wilson’s offseason work and encouraged about other players who can fill in at H-back. Wilson’s place isn’t the only development. The Buckeyes have depth because of a surge in playmakers.

As Wilson plays the position more frequently, the mistakes will lessen. It’s a minor detail right now. More importantly, he’s beefed up his diminutive frame, nearing the 190 mark after playing last season close to 175.

“He’s progressing,” Herman said. “He’s gotten stronger and bigger and learned technique, so the ability and his usability continues to rise with every step he takes.”

The compliments also rolled in from Meyer and wide receivers coach Zach Smith. Wilson displayed his full skill set in the spring, ripping off long runs and the ability to catch the football. He even outperformed Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and others at wide receiver. There was a consistency not seen in everyone else, leading Zach Smith to laud the sophomore.

“I don't think Philly was incapable of doing a lot of those things,” he said. “We did some of them with him. But I think as the offense grows and my group gets better and we develop, that will be more of a versatile position. We're excited about Dontre in that position and Jalin Marshall.”

Marshall became one of the forgotten freshmen last season, lost in a shuffle of redshirts. He was injured in fall camp and never recovered enough to become familiarized with the offense. Marshall too entered the year with heightened potential. After turning heads in the offseason – almost a remember me type performance – he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for spring practice.

But his assortment of run-catch skills is already back. Devin Smith spoke to Marshall’s maturity and improved playmaking on the field, as did Zach Smith. The offense has not only slowed down, but Marshall’s cohesion and unity with quarterback Braxton Miller is more on target with where it’s desired.

Whereas Wilson outruns and eludes the defense, Marshall can break tackles and bounce off the contact, thanks to a muscular, 205-pound body. Curtis Samuel, Parris Campbell and Noah Brown – all true freshmen – are also names coaches have circled for the H position.

Meyer said he was surprised how well Samuel fit at running back. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds – similar size to Wilson – Samuel isn’t built for the grueling Big Ten schedule. But until he shows an inability to play running back, Meyer will have him in the backfield – or somewhere else. It could reach a point where he fills in at several different positions.

“The guy that’s in the rotation already is Curtis Samuel,” Meyer said during spring drills. “Unless there’s something up, he’ll play.”

His opinion didn’t change once the calendar flipped to mid-April and spring practice concluded.

“The guy that really, really excites me is No. 4, Curtis Samuel,” Meyer said. “We just have to figure out if he’s got enough size and strength to take the pounding running back’s take. We have some depth there, but right now 15 (Elliott) and 4 (Samuel) are the two.”

Good luck keeping the freshman off the field. Unlike last season, when Meyer famously said, “Cool it with the Dontre,” there was adoration surrounding Samuel’s first go-round.

Samuel’s goal is to become versatile enough that he’s called on to fill multiple roles. The spring acted as an accelerated learning session. Wilson’s freshman stats would be welcomed by any first-year player, but Samuel is quick to be hesitant, hoping to not fall into an unrealistic situation.   

“I just want to keep progressing,” he said.

The unknown surrounds Campbell and Brown after they opted to enroll during the summer. Zach Smith hinted at Campbell being a wide receiver come fall. Brown’s position is to be determined. He has size to play receiver or running back and be a matchup problem at both.

“You never really know what you have until they get here,” Smith said. “We’re really excited about him. He is a big, good-looking talented dude.”

Question marks dot the offensive depth chart, but the amount of moving pieces lends itself to enthusiasm. Coaches wouldn’t describe the first two years – and those 24 wins – as lacking enthusiasm, but the current amount of talent at a position that garners extreme importance has the powers that be eager for the summer months to end.

The record-setting offense of 2013 could be a thing of the past come December.

 “That hybrid position is really a key guy,” Meyer said. 


Comments Show All Comments

Becool12's picture

I believe Marshall will be a better H than Dontre. The position of the H really relies on speed, power, and vision. Dontre has speed and vision but doesn't have the power necessarily. Marshall is a little bit slower but a lot more powerful 

+3 HS
avail31678's picture

Good point, but to be fair it did say Dontre put on 15 lbs.  That's significant.  Could be a different looking baller this fall.

+3 HS
D-Day0043's picture

I agree. 15 pounds of muscle will go a long way for Dontre.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

+1 HS
rdubs's picture

It does appear that Dontre has added some serious weight, so we'll see.  I wouldn't mind seeing them on the field at the same time even.

+3 HS
zhamilton05's picture

I thought the same thing - different types of players. And for returns, how about Dontre running back kickoffs (smaller holes to slip through, less unblocked hard hits) and Jalin taking punts?

+2 HS
chirobuck's picture

Harvin wasn't exactly known for his power, I'd say he did alright there........Wilson will be just fine


^ best post ever ^

-1 HS
Citrus's picture

Harvin could bench press 400lbs. 

+2 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

uh, yes Percy was! He might have been more known for his speed but he was also known for being the player who ran through the line just as much as around it. He benched 19 reps at the combine which is considered strong for skill players like him. He has guns that resemble players 5 inches taller than him. It was always discussed how much stronger PH was than many people thought. Plus the H in Urban's system has to be a strong player to do all the stuff that is required. I think that is why Philly was inconsistent in the role, he just wasn't a very strong skill player. And why Dontre had issues last year. He could run past guys when the lane was open, but when it wasn't he was too easy to tackle.

and his combine stats are 5'11'' and 192. Pretty similar to what Dontre is at now.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+2 HS
chirobuck's picture

uh, no Percy wasn't! He may have been strong for his size/position but no.....simply put he was a speed guy who was very elusive and used that better than anyone, below is a pre draft analysis for Sammy Watkins where they compare him to Harvin and they lay out what kind of player he was.....bottom line is strength is an added bonus for the H back not a necessity


Best Case Scenario:
 Sammy Watkins could end up being a much better Percy Harvin. Both players are speed demons that got a good amount of touches behind the line of scrimmage. Both are incredibly dangerous returners that strike fear in opposing special teams units. Both are highly susceptible to injury, sitting out many games during their college years because of ankle issues. Both receivers left college early. But, where the two differ is in the area of size. Harvin never really ran over defenders at Florida, something Watkins loves to do. Watkins is a few inches taller and about 30 pounds heavier than Harvin, which leads one to believe that the Clemson Tiger will be more productive and more durable as a pro.








^ best post ever ^

Squirrel Master's picture

uh, yes Percy was! You give me an evaluation of a player that Athlon compares to Percy. Here is the evaluation of Percy himself, by the NFL! at their Combine!

Shorter than scouts would like, but has a strong, compact build. Has struggled with durability, but is considered a physically tough player.


He is known for being strong, http://theathleticbuild.com/25-most-jacked-football-players-in-the-nfl/

(as above mentioned, he can bench 400 lbs)

and look at his highlights. He is a speed demon, I am not denying that. But we aren't talking about linebackers and offensive tackles. Yes he isn't as strong as them, but he is stronger than MOST players his size and skill position. He was known for running through the line as much as around it. the point is, Brown wasn't capable of running in between the tackles with any consistency and Dontre couldn't either last year. But now that Dontre is much larger and stronger (LIKE PERCY HARVIN), he could possibly break tackles better than he did last year. Percy drags DBs by his tail for yards. He breaks tackles. He gets extra yards. All stuff that we haven't had from the H back spot YET! Sure, Carlos Hyde did it no problem, BUT HE'S NOT AN H BACK! We are talking about a player that was considered incredibly strong for a type of player that isn't supposed to be that strong. Cereal Boy isn't that strong. Wes Welker isn't that strong. Percy is strong for his position type!


(I am curious why a Drake song that boasts Ohio State is dubbed over this highlight. I find that very odd)

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

SilverState's picture

Can kind of compare their sizes, using Braxton as scale with these recent pics:

+2 HS
chirobuck's picture

that's great to see.....can't wait for Marshall to display that state champion high jump ability  


^ best post ever ^

+1 HS
Homey1970's picture

Dontre ... is actually 6'5", with the afro 6'9"  (Thanks Chick Hern!)

mobboss1984's picture

I think Dontre and Marshall are equally matched. Dontre will have the edge in my book, because of the way he can make you miss.

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Bruce Lee

BenArazi4's picture


With all due respect to Marshall, he is not on Dontre's level of speed, quickness and making you miss.  Dontre's got the ability to take it to the house everytime and I think he will break out this year.  Marshall will make a good pure receiver, but he lacks the explosion (ran a 4.77 at The Opening).  He will be exciting no doubt and can easily make you miss, but the one thing he lacks is explosion, and I think that was a result of him not seeing the field much (among being injured).  Marshall IMO projects more as a pure receiver and will have to wait his turn, he doesn't really project as an H-back.  If anyone is taking Dontre's spot, its not Marshall, its Curtis Samuel, the kid is a bigger faster version of Dontre but I feel like Dontre's just got more agility and can make you miss to go with the explosion, along with the IT factor.  It will be a breakout year for Dontre and Urban's no dummy, he'll have Wilson and Samuel on the field at the same time.




chemicalwaste's picture

I've also read 4.4 40 times and remember watching him run into the end zone 15 yards ahead of defenders multiple times in high school, so he's got some wheels too, regardless of that time.

hetuck's picture

The key will be making the opposition pay if they key on Wilson. Perhaps his best value last season was as a decoy. If Devon Smith and Spencer don't produce, I think they will be replaced quickly. That evaluation will start with the first play against Navy. Play action bomb.  

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

+2 HS
nfischer's picture

You just gave away our first play.  Now they are going to be expecting it.

+2 HS
clogan1032's picture

Reading this, "...but right now 15 (Elliott) and 4 (Samuel) are the two.” Makes me shake my head when I think what could have been with Rod Smith, just never materialized.  

+5 HS
Killer nuts's picture

I wonder how Ball and Dunn feel about that too. I think Urban is a little partial to guys that he has recruited and he obviously favors game breakers over grinders

+1 HS
chirobuck's picture

well Meyer put on a full court press to keep Dunn here when he first came in, I thought the exact same thing though when I read that about Dunn and Ball......its a long season though, who knows how it will shake out


^ best post ever ^

+1 HS
Max Power's picture

I think part of his recruitment was about Michigan NOT landing him. It was safer for Urban to sign him and see if he pans out as opposed to Michigan coming in and landing one of Ohios best players during Urbans first recruiting cycle for the Bucks. Dunn really didnt fit the mold as a typical Urban Meyer RB

+1 HS
alust2013's picture

I think Dunn will end up being #2 when all is said and done this year. He seems to be the steady, power-type back, and with a new O-line, I think he will be more consistent than a smaller guy like Samuel.

...and Michigan still sucks.

+1 HS
zhamilton05's picture

Agreed, especially when facing a B1G defense for the third week in a row, in 40-degree weather. Dunn will see his touches, but he needs to be able to block and catch safety-valve passes, as well, or Meyer & Herman will restrict him to short-yardage situations.

+1 HS
Killer nuts's picture

I don't disagree at all. Obviously Urban fell in love with Carlos beating defenses into submission. When rubber meets the road Urban knows that having a grinder is incredibly valuable in the bigten. I just find it interesting that he favors the shiftier smaller backs that he recruited coming out of spring. I doubt very much that those 2 will be the only backs to get on the field

+1 HS
Him1stftballl8er's picture

Well we had nothing but grinders in the stable but I think Meyer has been recruiting his playmakers because we have so many grinders. Still have Smith, Ball and Dunn along with recruiting guys like Jerome baker and Larry Scott. 

The wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools. 

+1 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

I don't think Dunn or Ball should feel left out, maybe Rod does but I have a feeling he has excepted his role to this point.

I think Dunn should be confident because I see this team this year being more of a committee than last year. Hyde was so dominant with the ball that others didn't get opportunities. I think Elliott will be the starter but I can see at least 3 RB's getting into rotation this year.

Elliott starts, Ball and Dunn will most likely play against the bigger bruising teams. Samuel will get play against OOC and probably some games against Indiana, Purdue and I can see him getting some major play at TTUN this year (mostly because of the timeframe of being the last regular season game).

With Hyde gone, many will have the chance to step up. Now if Dunn or others don't get much this year, then they should rethink things. This is the best opportunity they can get. I doubt there will be a better time to take the lead.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
Max Power's picture

Agree. Especially if we are able to land two of the top five RBs in 2015 in LJ Scott and Damien Harris. Scott is a workhorse who has the frame to withstand a B1G season long pounding, essentially the same role as Dunn. If he or Ball cant get on the field consistently this year then their ship has sailed. We have pups that are biters on this team and are about to add more young talent. Tress isnt the coach so there wont be any upper classmen loyalty. The best players will play

buckeyeradar's picture

The problem is going to be not having enough footballs to go around.  With that much talent coaching gets tougher because everyone feels they should be playing.  Love the problem.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

+2 HS
OSUpawn's picture

The ball is going to be spread around early.  Get the ball to the playmakers and see what they can do.  Then as the season rolls on the players that are producing will get the majority of the touches.  The way I see it all those names above will get their shot.

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+3 HS
FitzBuck's picture

This is why Harvin is unique.  Wilson would need to bulk up another 15-25lbs while retaining his speed and cutting ability.  Coach Mick will have him close in another year.  


Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

+1 HS
OfficerRabbit's picture

Agreed. I wish the Percy Harvin comparisons would stop, he was/is a freak athlete. He had it all, speed, strength, vision, agility, and he could bust tackles. It's like saying every highly rated RB coming in is the next Adrian Peterson. I feel like throwing those kinds of names around sets unrealistic expectations for even the most talented kids coming in, then when they don't immediately produce we all start saying "what happened?" and "is he a bust?".



+3 HS
Jeremypreemo81's picture

Sooo many options on offense. I am more excited than ever to see them take the field this year!

thatlillefty's picture

Dontre is going to blow up this year. Outside of Braxton, he is our #1 play maker.

+1 HS
cdkmike's picture

All we need is for the defense to step up and well be playing in the title game.

Michael green

+4 HS
Bloombergl's picture

Don't forget about that O line, too.

+3 HS
whobdis's picture

I think there is a difference between Harvin and the tradional H-back. Harvin was a freak..it would be like us saying we need someone in that GInn role. I think Marshall could be the perfect H-back as he does have the speed and some power.  I don't think Brown plays this year but he may the most interesting of the bunch..Brown and Hubbard will be fun to watch on offense to see how they develop. That's what makes CFB fun..watch these kids grow.

+1 HS
MikeTheBuckeye's picture

I am thrilled to hear about Dontre's progression. It would be nice to see him with the ball in his hands rather than play decoy. I don't know a whole lot about Marshall. With his injury and red shirting he really slipped under the radar. However, I see Samuel as the number 2 guy in the H-back role. I've seen his highlights and he would fit in that spot nicely. I have high hopes in the years to come.

scottyp_330's picture

I don't prefer any player over the other. We have so much speed and playmaking talent now it's going to be unfair to most teams on our schedule. I think if Braxton had one more year after this one with this group of players, it could of been one of the most talented teams Ohio State has ever seen.

BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

I believe Curtis Samuel and Dontre will be the  2playmakers who play together at the same time and both will be moved around and motioned frequently so the defense will be totally lost with both speedsters moving around who to key on. Jalin Marshall is a good player I'm afraid he moves to a natural WR or transfer is the worst case scenario..It will be hard for him to play over Curtis and dontre with their speed and playmaking ability.


+1 HS
BuckeyesALLDAY1's picture

ALSO REMEMBER parris Campbell is a burner too


+1 HS
Max Power's picture

Our offense last year was record setting and one of the most integral spots in Meyer's offense was basically irrelevant. Imagine the celing for our offense now that the players who were hand picked for the h back have learned and grown into the position. The ink in the record books won't even have time to dry if they pick up where they left off and Wilson and Marshall become the playmakers the coaches believe they are! Defenses should be worried. Urban has more weapons than an arms dealer!

+1 HS
BuckeyeJeff2112's picture

I love It! Jalin Marshall was a QB. in high school so I'm excited to see how he does at reciever.

Jeff Haug

Fly Patterns's picture

I have been hearing hybrid/h-back being referred o since UFM was hired. And I watch games closely. But I honestly could not tell you what it means to be in this role in terms of actual formations and pays except things like playing" close to the line of scrimmage" and" in space" and vague terms like that. Vmcan someone point me to a write up on what the h-back is exactly? Maybe there's an article in archives...

cdub4's picture

There are tons of articles from Ross Fulton on this website about the hybrid role.

rjsmitty's picture

He even outperformed Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and others at wide receiver."

Ummmm...not a glowing review on our receivers.

"I don't wanna coach average! To hell with that!"  -UFM

Mean Mr Mustard's picture

This isn't good news.  Wilson is supposed to be a hybrid, jack-of-all-trades guy. 

Mean Mr Mustard's picture

Dontre Wilson just needs to play the Dontre Wilson.  Tavon Austin is a small guy that play the H just as well as anyone.