2016 Season Preview: Ohio State Running Backs

By D.J. Byrnes on August 26, 2016 at 11:35 am
Season Preview 2016: Ohio State Running Backs

A month ago, Ohio State sat upon a surfeit of running back talent. Though that remains true, the Buckeyes lost their most veteran RB when they jettisoned senior Bri'onte Dunn after domestic violence allegations.

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With the 2016 season a mere eight sunrises away, all of Buckeye Kingdom's gaze turns to redshirt freshman Mike Weber to lead a talented but inexperienced stable into the season.

While replacing Ezekiel Elliott, whom the Dallas Cowboys selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the NFL Draft, will be a monstrous task, it was only two years ago we wondered if Elliott possessed the ability to replace Carlos "El Guapo" Hyde as an offensive workhorse.

While nobody expects Weber to immediately replace a force of nature like Elliott, this is Ohio State. If the Buckeyes want to realize their goals, they need Weber (or someone else) to take the backfield load off quarterback J.T. Barrett. 

Mike Weber post-practice
Mike Weber looking the part after practice in 2016.


Mike Weber, a former four-star prospect from Detroit and Michigan's No. 1 overall player in the 2015 cycle, originally committed to the Wolverines in August 2014. However, that commitment only stuck until days before Ohio State's 42-28 victory over Michigan, Brady Hoke's last game as a head coach.

Despite new offers from Alabama, Georgia, and Notre Dame, Weber only needed a home visit from Urban Meyer, Kerry Coombs, and former running backs coach Stan Drayton to secure his commitment to Ohio State.

When Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh, however, the hometown lure of Michigan once again piqued Weber's interests. In fact, Michigan succeeded in flipping Weber before the National Signing Day commitment of Karan Higdon, a three-star running back out of Florida, blindsided him.

Weber flipped a third and final time and signed with the Buckeyes.

Though nobody expected him to supplant Ezekiel Elliott in 2015, Weber drew rave reviews in fall camp before a torn meniscus cost him the remainder of training camp. Weber never recovered his mojo as he sat out the entirety of the Buckeyes' 12-1 season. 

Weber, before and after Mickey Marotti reached into his soul.
What a difference a year makes.

Entering 2016, Weber found himself battling senior Bri'onte Dunn, a former five-star recruit, for the heirship of Elliott's vacated throne. Weber appeared to earn the inside track during spring ball, which was cemented when Ohio State dismissed Dunn after domestic violence allegations.

Meyer has yet to officially name Weber as his starting tailback, but it would be a shocker if he wasn't the one lined up beside J.T. Barrett when the Buckeye offense takes its first snap against Bowling Green on Sept. 3rd. 

Weber's 2015 recruiting profile listed him at 219 pounds. He's down to 210 pounds now after working with strength coach Mickey Marotti to shed fat and build good muscle. 

Weber's body change allows him more agility, which he showcased in various video clips released by Ohio State over the course of fall camp. (Here he is roasting linebacker Joe Burger with a spin move reminiscent of the one with which Braxton Miller incinerated Virginia Tech last Labor Day.)

His power running has never been questioned, as his low and bulky frame will prove a burden to tackle over the course of four quarters.

He'll be running behind an offensive line that's replacing three starting positions and will need to show pass-blocking ability if Ohio State is to achieve its desired offensive balance.

If that happens, there won't be much of a drop-off between Elliott and the young bull looking to replace him.

If Weber fails in pass-protection (or worse, gets injured), the running back depth chart gets murkier, though talent still won't be an issue.

Curtis Samuel flexing on the haters.
Curtis Samuel flexes after scoring a touchdown against Rutgers in 2015.


It's likely Curtis Samuel will back up Mike Weber even though Ohio State will deploy him as its starting hybrid back. A four-star 2014 signee from Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, Samuel sat out spring camp but enters the season 100% healthy.

Urban Meyer raved earlier this week about one of his most dynamic athletes.

"I think he's our No. 1 player on offense right now," Meyer told reporters with a grin on his face. "He's gotta stay healthy and he's gotta go. I just love his skill set."

Samuel not only has straight line speed, but his shiftiness allows him to change directions without switching gears. Add in his ability as a solid receiving option, and it's easy to see why Meyer gushes about him.

Samuel burst onto the scene in 2014 season, logging 383 rushing yards and six touchdowns as Ezekiel Elliott's backup. He also chipped in 11 receptions for 95 yards through the air. 

Samuel seemed poised for bigger things in 2015 when Ohio State shifted him to H-Back. However, Samuel at times seemed lost in transition as the coaching staff struggled to get him the ball or fully weaponize that.

Injuries also played a role, as did Braxton Miller's switch to the position and the elder Jalin Marshall's development. Despite Samuel's talent, there was still only one ball to be spread around.

That should change in 2016, where Samuel will be ready to burden the load from the start. Should Weber falter or fall to injury, Samuel will be there to pick up where his teammate left off.

For those that question Samuel's ability to shoulder the load as a workhorse running back—especially between the tackles—consider this 2014 quote from then running backs coach Stan Drayton to The New York Post:

“Never once have I seen him flinch,” Drayton said. “Just a tough nut. His contact demeanor has to be the most impressive thing. He loads his body up. He’s trying to strike people. He’s the hammer. He ain’t the nail.”

Dontre Wilson returns a kickoff vs. Maryland
Dontre Wilson returns a kickoff against Maryland in 2015.


Ohio State fans attached massive expectations to Dontre Wilson, a four-star burner from DeSoto, Texas, before he stepped foot on campus in 2013. A late-in-the-process flip from Oregon after Chip Kelly's flight to the NFL, many in Columbus saw Wilson as the obvious answer to the fabled "Percy Harvin position."

Braxton Miller, then still a Buckeye quarterback, amplified those expectations by raving about Wilson throughout fall camp.

Things haven't gone as planned for the senior, and he knows it.

'[Fans] probably feel the way I feel, I haven't did anything yet," Wilson told cleveland.com at Ohio State's annual media day. "That's what I always tell myself. I had an OK career, but that's not what I want to be remembered for."

To be fair, Wilson's body hasn't cooperated. Wilson broke his foot at Michigan State in 2014 (where he still managed to score a touchdown), and the nagging injury cost him four games in 2015.

In fact, last year was Wilson's worst in the Scarlet and Gray. He finished with just seven receptions for 63 yards. He didn't rush the ball once.

Fully healthy and wearing custom cleats he secured during a summer trip to Nike, Wilson knows this campaign will be vital to his NFL dreams. The three-year Varsity O letter winner finally feels comfortable in Urban Meyer's offense, whether it be out wide or in the backfield.

"I put in the work for [Meyer] to trust me and put me in all those positions now," Wilson said.

Meyer also expects Wilson, fifth all-time at Ohio State in return yards (1,218), to be his lead return man when the season starts next week.

Nobody doubts Wilson's talent. "His body's gotta maintain," Meyer said Aug. 7th.

If it does, Wilson will provide the Buckeyes with a potent and versatile weapon.

Antonio Williams at the 2016 spring game
Antonio Williams at the 2016 spring game.


Should Urban Meyer choose to backup (or supplant) Mike Weber with a more traditional running back than Samuel or Wilson, the 5-10, 210-pound four-star 2016 signee Antonio Williams would be the call.

Hailing from New London, North Carolina, Williams originally committed to the Wisconsin Badgers in December of 2014.

However, when Ohio State hired Notre Dame's Tony Alford to replace the departed Stan Drayton in February 2015, Alford made Williams a priority. Williams initially spurned Alford's overtures, but his persistence paid off.

Williams, a psychology major, realized Ohio State's psychology department ranked higher than Wisconsin's. Along with witnessing the growth of Ezekiel Elliott, Williams pulled the plug on his Badger commitment on Oct. 14th, 2015. 

Three days later, he unofficially visited Ohio State. A day after that, he committed to Urban Meyer's team.

Williams enrolled in January, which should give him an inside track towards playing time over the next man on our list.

Demario McCall — The G.O.A.T.
Demario McCall at the 2015 Opening Regional Finals in Columbus.


On another timeline, perhaps Ohio State fans would look towards Demario McCall, a four-star 2016 signee, as their heir to the "Dontre Wilson position."

Such is how the coaching staff will hope to use the 5-foot-10 speedster from North Ridgeville, Ohio. Despite missing four games his senior year of high school, the two-time Associated Press all-state running back managed touchdown runs of 45, 54, 57, 66, 67, and 76 yards.

An electric athlete and believer in cryonics, McCall is talented enough to see time immediately at most programs in America.

At Ohio State, McCall will have to show an ability and willingness to block in pass protection as well as designed quarterback runs. If he does that, he'll provide valuable depth as he's capable of playing running back or split out wide as an H-Back.

His first pair of contact lenses, which he received earlier this month, should aid his development as well.

Regardless, McCall will face an uphill climb for playing time this year. If he does breakthrough, look for him to start as a return man.

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