Not much has changed in the running backs room, particularly at the top of the depth chart, as Ohio State's top two backs from last season are back in the backfield again this year.
J.K. Dobbins is looking to pick up where he left off when he had one of the best debut seasons for a running back in Ohio State history, and Mike Weber is eager to prove that returning for one more season was the right move.
Behind them is a group of talented freshmen making up one of the best running back classes the school has signed in recent memory. Even if they won't contribute immediately, the depth and future potential is something to get Buckeye fans excited.
It's a loaded unit from top to bottom, and it will be one of the strengths of this 2018 Ohio State team.
What We Know
Of all the position groups, running back is is probably one of the more familiar groups of players, behind only the wide receivers.
Ohio State returns not one but two former 1,000 yard rushers in sophomore J.K Dobbins and junior Mike Weber. That pair combined for over 2,000 yards rushing last season. While the running backs room is deep, we know those two will get most of, if not all of the meaningful carries this season.
We also know that of those two, Dobbins will likely be at the top of the depth chart. Dobbins emerged while Weber was sidelined with lingering injuries last season, and he performed so well it was impossible to take him off the field. He broke Maurice Clarett's freshman rushing record for rushing yards in a debut game, and rushing yards for a debut season. He finished the year with 1,403 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and begins this season as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
|No.||Name||Pos.||Ht.||Wt.||Year||Hometown (High School)|
|2||J.K. DOBBINS||RB||5-10||214||SO||La Grange, Texas (La Grange)|
|6||BRIAN SNEAD||RB||5-11||211||FR||Seffner, Florida (Armwood)|
|25||MIKE WEBER||RB||5-10||214||RS JR||Detroit, Michigan (Cass Tech)|
|33||MASTER TEAGUE||RB||5-11||215||FR||Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Blackman)|
|34||MITCH ROSSI||RB||6-0||235||SO||Franklin, Tennessee (Franklin)|
|44||AMARI McMAHON||RB||6-0||205||JR||Dublin, Ohio (Scioto)|
We also know that even if he doesn't start or see as many carries as Dobbins, Weber is also one of the top running backs in the Big Ten, giving the Buckeyes an embarrassment of riches. His redshirt freshman season, Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns. Dealing with injuries and splitting carries with Dobbins, Weber had 626 yards last season and 10 touchdowns.
Behind them is a group of talented, but unproven freshmen. Four-star Jaelen Gill is the highest rated of the bunch, ranked as the No. 30 player in the country coming out of high school. Gill's first action may not come at the running back position, though, especially with how loaded the Buckeyes are at the top. He's currently listed as an H-back on the official roster and has been working out with the receivers in practice.
He's followed by four-star Brian Snead, the No. 80 player in the country. Master Teague was one of the lower-rated players in the class at No. 228, but his ranking steadily climbed later in his recruitment and judging by the chatter about him when he enrolled in spring, he's already proving himself an underrated recruit.
What We Don’t Know
While know what the top personnel will look like, we don't necessarily know how they will look in the offense or how carries will be distributed.
Dobbins got a heavy majority of the carries last season, even towards the end of the season when both running backs were healthy, but with a more pass-first quarterback at the helm, there's a chance there are more carries to go around, which is a big reason Weber elected to return in the first place.
"I feel like it's going to help a lot," Weber said when asked about how a new quarterback would open opportunities for the running backs to get more carries. "In my first year, (J.T. Barrett) had more (carries) than me. I feel like those carries are going to hit us a little bit. The carries that the quarterback was having, it is good for us too."
Still, there is only one ball. And with playmakers like Dobbins, Weber and Parris Campbell, it will be interesting to see how Ohio State distributes touches. But as long as it leads to wins, Dobbins isn't worried about it.
"That is the goal every year," Dobbins said. "I am not a selfish guy. I am a team player, so whatever I have to do to help the team win, that's what it is."
Another unknown is how exactly the Buckeyes plan to use the running backs in the offense. The past few seasons, the quarterback run has been a strong part of the offense and even many of the handoffs to the running backs were at least set up by the threat of a quarterback run.
With a pass-first Haskins at the helm, it's unlikely Ohio State will rely so heavily on a the read option game, which means the Buckeye offense could be more reliant on things like run-pass option plays or zone handoffs.
Finally, we heard a lot of talk about two-back sets last season, but it didn't really materialize all that much, though we got a peak at some during the team's victory over USC in the Cotton Bowl.
We don't know if two-back sets will make up a substantial part of the offense this season, but Weber and Dobbins seem to think so, and they're excited about it.
"We started doing it towards the end of last year but we didn't really get into it because of how the game went," Weber said. "I feel like we will get into it a lot this year."
The running back position will absolutely be a position of strength for the Buckeyes in the 2018 season.
While the team breaks in a new quarterback with Haskins taking the helm, it will be a luxury to have not one, but two of the nation's most talented running backs in the backfield with him. Haskins in undoubtably talented, but he's still entering his first season as a starter and will surely struggle at times, but Dobbins and Weber will provide a security blanket out of the backfield for the first-year starter.
Additionally, having two running backs as talented as Dobbins and Weber makes losing the running threat of J.T. Barrett quite a bit easier to stomach. Barrett was the go-to player in short yardage and in close games. Meyer referred to him as his "get out of jail free card." The Buckeyes won't have that this year, but they will have two talented running backs to carry the load.
It's never easy to replace a starting quarterback, especially one of the most accomplished signal callers in school history who's been at the helm for four seasons, but it sure helps to do it when you have a backfield as loaded as the Buckeyes'.