Though much off the talk since Ohio State captured the national title has centered on what is shaping up to be a three-way battle for the starting quarterback gig, the offense is also sporting proven depth at the H-back spot in Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall.
And while whoever wins the starting nod at the position won't create major waves nationally, there's no question the battle for reps – though it won't fully begin until fall due to Wilson just recently having pins removed from his surgically repaired foot – will be fierce based on the production seen from both thus far into their careers.
Coming into the 2014 campaign, then-true-sophomore Wilson assumed the starting role after serving as Philly Brown's backup as a true freshman the prior season. During that 2013 season, Wilson finished as the team's 4th-leading receiver with 22 catches for 210 yards with another 255 yards on the ground.
Last year, Wilson had his ups and downs, often in the same game, as evidenced by what turned out to be his final outing in East Lansing when he fumbled twice (one lost) and dropped a touchdown pass before making a nice grab for a touchdown in the second half of Ohio State's 49-37 victory.
Unfortunately, Wilson broke his foot during the win. While he and Urban Meyer spoke with optimism that he might return before both the Sugar Bowl and then the national championship game, neither materialized and Wilson was limited to a nine game season.
|OPP||RUSH||RUSH YDS||RUSH TD||REC||REC YDS||REC TD||TOT TOUCH||TOT YDS||AVG/T||TD|
|9 GAME TOT||18||100||0||21||300||3||39||400||10.3||3|
By the numbers, Wilson posted a decent showing at the H spot (44 total rush/rec yards per game) but failed to match the hype perhaps unfairly thrust upon him even the season before a true freshman. For many, the diminutive Wilson (5'10", 188 lbs.) wasn't as shifty as anticipated nor did he break enough tackles. In fact, on 39 offensive touches, he ran or caught a ball for more than 30 yards just twice.
This fall, Wilson should be a little bigger and stronger but despite injury will likely need to show improvement if he wants to see more snaps at the H-back than Marshall.
After redshirting in 2013, Marshall entered last season with plenty of promise despite being tabbed as Wilson's backup.
|STRETCH||RUSH||RUSH YDS||RUSH TD||REC||REC YDS||REC TD||TOT TOUCH||TOT YDS||AVG/T||TD|
|1ST 9 GAMES||17||107||1||14||157||2||31||264||8.5||3|
|LAST 6 GAMES||8||38||0||24||342||4||32||380||11.9||4|
|15 GAMES TOT||25||145||1||38||499||6||63||644||10.2||7|
During the nine games in which both players were healthy, Marshall logged 31 offensive touches for an average of 8.5 yards which was a good bit less than Wilson's 10.3 yards.
Once Wilson was sidelined however, Marshall but together a solid final six games averaging 11.9 yards per offensive touch showing some impressive hands along the way. In total, he churned out 63 combined rush/receiving yards per game during the span with four touchdowns.
Marshall's emergence and Wilson's continued injury recovery along with Ohio State's need to identify not just a starter at the H but determine a rotation at the two wideout spots creates an interesting storyline to watch during spring drills.
On one hand, Marshall could potentially lock down the H spot with continued reps and a chance to gain even more rapport with Cardale Jones. On the other, Meyer will also likely elect to give Marshall some looks at the X and Y spots in an effort to ensure he's got his best 11 on the field as often as possible come fall knowing he's got Wilson as a solid rotational H-back alternative.
Of course, Michael Thomas is a sure-starter at one wideout spot and Corey Smith showed some flashes (20 rec, 255 yds) but with the rest of the wide receiver corps long on talent yet short on proven track records, Marshall should get some looks even if only to help push the likes Noah Brown (who has also seen spot duty at H) along with Johnnie Dixon, Jeff Greene, Terry McLaurin, James Clark and others.
As the season gets going, it's fair to assume both Marshall and Wilson will see their fair share of snaps at the H as well as various wide receiver spots and even in the backfield from time to time as Meyer and Ed Warriner find creative ways to get the ball in the hands of playmakers on the outside to compliment Ezekiel Elliott's punishing running game.
At the end of the day, just like the quarterback battle, the Marshall / Wilson competition is just another scenario 99% of college coaches wish they had to endure.