With Daniel "Boom" Herron and Brandon "Zoom" Saine on the Ohio State roster this fall, there will be very little question of who the Buckeyes will have at #1 and #2 on their depth chart at the running back position on a weekly basis. A big question does arrive as the Buckeyes look to who their third running back will be come 45 days when the good guys take on Navy in the Horseshoe.
While it made perfect sense for Carlos Hyde (6-1, 225) to step right into the third back slot and take care of short yardage duties as a true freshman this year, other things got in the way, keeping Hyde from enrolling at OSU this summer and forcing him to have to spend the fall playing football at Fork Union Academy in Virginia. Hyde is expected to enroll in January, granted he can get a qualifying score on the ACT, but USC, Penn State, Michigan, and Pasadena will already be in the rear view mirror by then.
With the loss of Hyde for 2009, the Buckeyes are left with four options at the running back position to follow Herron and Saine. The candidates are senior walk-on Marcus Williams, redshirt freshman Jermil Martin, and true freshmen Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry. Training camp will be a big judgement time for these four players, as they all try to grab meaningful time on the field and claim their role by the start of the season in a little over a month. For now we can at least speculate the chances of each to win the third wheel gig.
While Williams is certainly the underdog of the four players, he has had some bright spots in mop up duty in the past and shined in the 2009 version of the Spring Game. Williams is the only player in the group with actual experience playing in college football games and has registered 49 yards on 16 carries and has a reception for 11 yards in his career. He showed some of his talent in front of 95,000 this April, carrying the ball 7 times for 98 yards in the Spring Game, which is impressive despite the fact that the game was out of hand for most of his touches. All that being said, Williams is still a walk-on and the least talented of the four options, giving him little chance to pick up the third string gig. He knows the system the best out of any of the backs and does have more experience than Martin, Hall, and Berry, but it won't be enough, leaving his chances at an 11W predicted 10%.
Martin joins the competition at running back after recently being converted from full back, where he spent all of last year. He was viewed as a combo-back coming out of Glenville High School, with the strength to be a big-time blocker and the athleticism to be able to carry or catch the ball out of the backfield. He measures at 6-0, 227, making him an ideal fit to be a short-yardage and goal line back to push the pile this season. The loss of Hyde prompted The Vest and Bolls to decide to move Martin to tailback for the 2009 campaign, which says a lot about the opportunity he will have when camp begins next month. 11W will put his chances to be the third back at 50%, and if he isn't taking care of short yardage duty come September 5 it will only be his own fault.
Jordan Hall is the "forgotten" back in the 2009 recruiting class, being largely overshadowed by the hype that Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde created. Hall is no slouch though and has a skill set that includes the ability to both run and catch the ball with tremendous speed and agility. His most valuable attribute is that he played with Terrelle Pryor for three years in high school and their cohesion is unmatched by any other back on the roster (see here and, for fun, here). Even though the chemistry is already in place between Hall and LiC, I still think the freshman is more likely to red-shirt this season and possibly start a conversion to becoming a slot receiver. As of now his chances aren't looking too good and 11W is giving him a 5% chance to be the third back come week one due to the probability he will red-shirt.
Berry was a shoe-in to see the field this year and combine with Hyde, Saine, and Herron to give the Bucks their own stable of running backs, but couldn't resist the urge to tangle with Mary Jane. Berry is by far the most talented player in this group, but there are concerns now of whether he will face a suspension to start the year or bump Ray Small over in Tressel's dog house, hindering the opportunities he will get in his first year in Columbus. If Berry never got into trouble before his arrival in Columbus and came to school with a clean slate his chances would be much higher to claim the third spot in the Buckeye ground game this fall. Despite the fact that the charges have been lowered from a felony to a misdemeanor, we still think Berry will face a penalty of some sort (suspension or dog house), bringing his 11W percentage to claim the third running back position down to 35%.
It will certainly be interesting to see which player in this group emerges from the rest come pre-season camp next month. Both on the field and off the field factors will be taken into consideration by the staff, but at the end of the day the best player will play. Right now Jermil Martin has to be the leader to see the most time behind Herron and Saine due to Berry's off field issues, but if Jaamal can prove he has learned from his mistakes and clearly shows he is the more talented back, there is no question he could be seeing a number of carries early on. In the end, I think Saine and Herron will be able to handle most of the running back duties, but after last season it is always nice to have reserves like these four players who are fully capable of stepping in and getting the job done when needed.