Running back is one of Ohio State’s biggest positions of uncertainty entering this spring, but for Steele Chambers, that could open up an opportunity.
J.K. Dobbins is gone after entering the 2020 NFL draft. Master Teague is the frontrunner to replace Dobbins in the starting lineup, but given that Teague has never started a game, the Buckeyes will likely go back to a running back rotation next season. And other than Teague and Chambers, it’s uncertain which other scholarship players will be taking snaps at running back this spring.
Demario McCall could be in that mix, but it’s hard to know where he’ll factor in after he’s bounced back and forth between the running back and H-back positions for the past two years. Incoming freshman Miyan Williams won’t be on campus until summer.
Rising sophomore Marcus Crowley has been the popular early pick to potentially break out along with Teague in 2020. However, he’s coming off a knee injury, his arm was in a sling during the football team’s appearance at an Ohio State basketball game last week and Ohio State director of sports performance Mickey Marotti said last week that he's “not sure” whether Crowley will be able to practice this spring.
If Crowley isn’t ready to go, Chambers would likely open spring as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart, giving him a big opportunity to prove he deserves playing time as a redshirt freshman.
Crowley started out ahead of Chambers on Ohio State’s depth chart last season, which is why he played in seven games and burned his redshirt, while Chambers played in only four to preserve his. But Crowley entered his freshman year with an advantage that Chambers did not: Spring practice, as Crowley was an early enrollee while Chambers arrived in the summer.
In an interview following the Big Ten Championship Game, Chambers acknowledged that he had some struggles getting up to speed in such a short time.
“There have been ups and downs,” Chambers told Eleven Warriors in December. “Just being a new freshman, just got there like a month before, having learned the playbook and just kind of being thrown into the fire.”
Even so, Chambers performed well in limited action – albeit all of that coming at the tail end of blowout wins – as he ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries. He credited the running backs around him last season, led by Dobbins, with pushing him and showing him the ropes to help him improve quickly.
“J.K., Master, all the other guys have really helped me along the way,” Chambers said. “We push each other very hard. Just every day in practice, in the film room, everything, we’re always competing.”
A four-star recruit from Roswell, Georgia, Chambers already offers a promising combination of size, athleticism and physicality at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. Going into his first full offseason as a Buckeye, though, Chambers’ goal was to continue getting better in all those areas.
“Just gotta get bigger, faster, stronger,” Chambers said. “Just whenever my name’s called, I gotta be ready.”
Chambers’ name is much more likely to be called for meaningful playing time in 2020, so his coaches will expect him to be ready this spring. They’re expecting more from all of their running backs, given the enormous shoes that the record-breaking Dobbins left to fill.
The Buckeyes would like to see Teague emerge as a leader of the group who they can trust to be their lead back this fall, but the window of opportunity is open for Ohio State’s other running backs going into the spring too, and Chambers – especially if Crowley is unable to return in time for spring practices – looks like the one who could have the biggest chance to take advantage.
Regardless of who else might be in the mix for playing time, Chambers is looking forward to going through his first spring and having the opportunity to compete. He’ll take whatever reps he can get, but he’s hoping Crowley – his fellow member of the recruiting class of 2019 – will be on the field with the running backs, as well.
“With his injury, that’s definitely been a downside for him and of the entire room, because he was a big part of us,” Chambers said of Crowley. “But just hope that he can get back healthy and all, and will be able to compete again.”