Ohio State has two returning running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, who have each had 1,000-yard seasons for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes also have another veteran running back, Antonio Williams, who Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford describes as one of the most improved players on the entire team.
While that’s a nice luxury for Ohio State to have, it does bring up one potentially complicating question: How can the Buckeyes keep all of their running backs happy with their playing time?
Alford, however, said that isn’t a question he concerns himself with.
"I’m not a kind of guy that keeps people happy. Just ask my children," Alford said with a laugh. "I’m not into keeping people happy. The guys that deserve to play are going to play."
In this case, the Buckeyes have at least three running backs who have proved to Alford that they deserve to play, and getting each of them a substantial weekly share of carries could be difficult to accomplish. Getting each of them the amount of carries that they believe they should have will likely be impossible.
Dobbins led the Buckeyes with 194 carries last season. Weber had 101 carries, though he likely would have received a closer to equal share if not for a hamstring injury that sidelined him early in the season. Williams had 57 carries, but most of those came early in the season when Weber was banged up, as Williams was relegated mostly to mop-up duty once Weber returned to the rotation.
There’s no question that Weber and Williams would like to get more carries than they got last year, and even Dobbins would probably like to have a few more opportunities to tote the rock.
Alford doesn’t see that as a bad thing, though, because he expects all of his running backs to be competitors.
"If they didn’t want the ball and they didn’t want to play and they didn’t want to compete, then why the hell would I want them?" Alford remarked. "I don’t want to be around you as a person, let alone coach you as a player. If you’re not an alpha male, you’re not a guy that wants it, who’s hungry to succeed and compete, then why would I want you?"
“I’m not into keeping people happy. The guys that deserve to play are going to play.”– Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford
Alford also believes, though, that they have all bought into Ohio State’s culture to the point that they will all support each other even though they want to play more.
"There’s three guys that are playing at a very, very high level," Alford said. "And know the offense, they know the expectation level as far as our culture and how we do things. They do it right, they’re conscientious and they help one another. So it’s very competitive. But it’s all very spirited, and they help one another."
All three running backs said Monday that while they are competing hard with one another and trying to earn as much playing time as they can, they also remain friends with each other and believe they push each other in a positive way.
"We push each other, of course, but we're almost like best friends," Dobbins said.
As long as his running backs continue to have that attitude going forward, Alford believes the thing that will keep everyone happy is winning football games. So Alford says his focus will be on doing whatever he can to help the Buckeyes win as many games as possible, and not on trying to give all the running backs their fair share.
"There’s going to be a lot of competition, they all know it," Alford said. "And they’re going to champion each other’s successes, and help one another out. When they’re not having success, somebody better help pick them up. And that’s part of the culture of our room. As one goes, we all go. It’s not about me keeping guys happy. Guys who produce are going to play. Guys who earned the right to play will play. It’s not my job to keep people happy. You’re happy when you’re winning."