While Master Teague entered spring practices in March as Ohio State’s presumed starting running back, sophomore Marcus Crowley lurked in the shadows.
Could he enter into a timeshare with Teague for carries this fall? Might there even be an opportunity for him to win the starting job? Nobody seemed intent on ruling anything out for Crowley, a one-time Miami pledge who flipped commitments during a senior season at Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian Academy that ended with him earning Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year award.
The main question surrounding Crowley’s ability to help the Buckeyes – and the depth of his contributions – centered on his health. Unfortunately for the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder, that question remains unanswered as his team nears the Oct. 24 start of the season.
“We did have a minor setback with him, but he's coming back strong now,” running backs coach Tony Alford said on Tuesday.
Crowley suffered a torn ACL late in a November beatdown of Maryland that prematurely ended the tailback’s freshman season. The Buckeyes quickly put together a long-term recovery plan in hopes that he wouldn’t miss any action. On March 2, head coach Ryan Day said he anticipated Crowley being ready for Ohio State’s then-scheduled first game on Aug. 31. Once Teague went down with an Achilles injury, Alford expected Crowley to get healthy before his tailback counterpart.
Instead, the expected progression didn’t happen as hoped. In mid-September, Day said Crowley was “still working his way back into practice.” Two weeks ago, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson mentioned off-hand that Crowley was not “quite full speed” yet. On Tuesday, Alford confirmed Crowley still isn’t fully healthy.
“When he'll be back, I don't know that,” Alford said. “I'm not a doctor. That's up to our training staff and (physical therapist Adam Stewart), our rehab guys. They’ll kind of tell me and coach Day, ‘Here's what we've got. Here's what we're working with,’ and when he can come back and how much he can handle, his stress loads and things like that. So I really don't know when he'll be back.”
Crowley, who recorded 25 rushes for 237 yards and a touchdown in seven games last year, was going through drills during the window of Saturday's practice at Ohio Stadium that was open to the media. At the time, he didn’t appear to have any limitations. However, based on his coaches’ comments, he’s still working his way back to 100 percent health.
In the meantime, Teague and Oklahoma graduate transfer Trey Sermon have taken control of the backfield with Steele Chambers appearing to have the inside track to earn the third spot on the depth chart at running back. Freshman Miyan Williams and walk-on Xavier Johnson are in the mix, too.
Whenever Crowley gets healthy enough to appear in games, he’ll have to fight for carries – even in garbage time of blowouts. But with top-100 commits TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor joining the fray next year to potentially create a crowded backfield, it’s important for Crowley to get fully healthy to showcase his skills as often as he can this fall.
“I do know he's coming back and incrementally coming back a little bit more every single day,” Alford said. “So, how fast that's going to be when it's full speed, I don't have an answer to that. But he's fine. Mentally, he's fine. He understands where he's at. It is what it is.
“Obviously, it's a setback. You can sit and sulk if you want, but it is what it is. This is the hand that we're dealt with and we make the best of it and we get ourselves to play when we can and do as much as you possibly can, as much as Master did. You get yourself ready to go the best of your abilities and spend as much time as you humanly possibly can to get yourself prepared for when the time comes, you're ready to go.”