How you do replace Carlos Hyde, you ask? Well, for starters, you don’t.
The former Ohio State running back stampeded his way to 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and, behind an offensive line that seemed invincible, he vaulted himself into school lore with quick feet that moved like pistons and a forte for running defenders over.
It’s why the Buckeyes can’t and won’t replace Hyde in 2014. He was too good, and the way he complimented quarterback Braxton Miller in a historically powerful running game was too good. But you better believe Meyer and Co. will try and replace his production.
“This is the Ohio State University and it’s the next man up,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said last March. “I’m sure if you ask Carlos Hyde, he’ll tell you the same thing. It’s the next man up, so somebody’s gotta step up fill the shoes of Carlos Hyde.”
But, boy, those are awfully big shoes. The Buckeyes have enlisted sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, redshirt senior Rod Smith, true freshman Curtis Samuel and redshirt sophomores Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball to do so. It’s a tall order for a stable of talented, yet unproven, running backs.
“I’m a little concerned,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days. “I see several talented players, but for some reason they haven’t played very well.”
But don’t take that completely the wrong way. Elliott – despite having wrist surgery two Saturdays ago – is projected to start against Navy Aug. 30 in Baltimore. Meyer told ESPN that Samuel, who has yet to play a down of collegiate football, has “stolen his heart.” Meyer’s even showing love to Smith and Dunn, a pair of chronic underachievers. Ball has slipped off the radar with a foot injury.
“I give credit to Bri’onte and Rod Smith, every day they’ve showed up and they’ve worked their tails off so they’re in the mix,” Meyer said Saturday.
There's talent in the room, and Meyer can see that. He's also keenly aware that, currently, none of them are quite the player Hyde was. One man can't fill his shoes.
“I think we’re going to have to have somewhat of a rotation,” Meyer said. “Carlos was a 25, 30 carries-a-game type guy. We’re going to have to be more balanced. You might see us play two of those guys at the same time.”
Added Drayton: “I’m always gonna operate under the notion that I need at least three. I need at least three. And there’s five of them.”
Because none of are quite as experienced as Hyde, either.
“We have three guys who have been here a couple years and haven’t played. “It’s not because of Carlos Hyde. If you’re a great player, we can do something to get you on the field.”
Elliott saw the field in spurts last season as a true freshman and rushed for 262 yards. Outside of garbage time, Smith and Ball watched mostly from the sidelines and combined for 193 yards. Dunn took a redshirt after playing here and there his freshman year. Samuel was playing high school football in Brooklyn last fall.
“Rod Smith is talented, he just has to put everything together. Then you have Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball," Meyer said. There’s a lot of competition. There’s no hierarchy. I anticipate midway through training camp we’ll go ahead and announce the starter.”
But don’t conflate starter for superstar. Ohio State can’t replace Hyde, but it can do the best to mitigate his loss.