When Ohio State goes through individual drills in practice, it’s common to see established veterans and incumbent starters taking the first reps for each position group. That made the order for drill work at running back during Wednesday’s first practice of preseason camp notable.
Miyan Williams, who led the running backs through drills during spring practices when Master Teague was sidelined by an injury, continued to lead the running back line even though the incumbent was back to participating fully in practice on Wednesday.
While it’s just one day of practice, and we should always be careful about reading too much into what we see from the first day of practice, it also wasn’t a huge surprise to see Williams at the front of the line despite Teague’s status as the most veteran and most experienced running back on the roster.
Since he arrived at Ohio State as a three-star recruit last summer, Williams has steadily gained momentum as a player who will be far more than an afterthought for the Buckeyes even though he was a late addition to the recruiting class of 2020. In just 10 carries as a true freshman, Williams quickly became a fan favorite as the 5-foot-8, 225-pound running back not only showed power but also burst out of the backfield and the agility to make defenders miss.
In a deep room of running backs that also includes third-year Marcus Crowley and highly touted freshmen TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor, how has Williams put himself in position to play a major role and potentially even start? Day said that starts with hard work.
“I think Miyan has worked really, really hard,” Day said after Wednesday’s first practice. “If you look at his body right now, it’s hard. He looks strong out there. He’s worked really, really hard in the weight room. And when he had his opportunity last year, he did a good job with a couple of the runs. Certainly the big run against Clemson that he had.
“But we’ll still wait to see how it goes. I thought his pass protection in the spring was excellent. We gotta keep building on that. And for a guy who was a little bit under the radar coming in, he’s made a big impact.”
Whether Williams, Teague or someone else will be the first running back on the field when the Buckeyes play Minnesota on Sept. 2 could depend on how they all perform in practice over the next four weeks. Day said Ohio State is trying to even out reps between the running backs as much as possible, and they still have a lot to learn about the running backs, given that Teague is the only one who’s seen consistent playing time so far in his career.
That said, Day feels good about what the Buckeyes have at the position.
“Since I’ve been here, it’s certainly the most depth we’ve had at that position. I think Tony’s done a good job of building depth there, recruiting to that room and all those guys have great attitudes when they’re out there,” Day said. “So it’s fun to watch them compete.
“It’s hard to tell how a running back’s doing always, certainly with no pads on, but even with pads on, if it’s not a tackle situation, sometimes it’s difficult to tell. But we’re gonna have some tackling situations like we did in the spring. We’re going to do it in the preseason, because we have to practice tackling, and then I think at that point, we’ll have a better idea with some of those younger guys. We certainly have a great idea about Master.”
Williams and Teague look like the frontrunners to lead the running back rotation right now, though another player to watch is certainly Henderson, the No. 1 running back in the recruiting class of 2021 who already shed his black stripe this spring. Henderson was fourth in the drill order at running back behind Williams, Teague and Crowley on Wednesday, but there’s still plenty of time for him to move up the pecking order – especially as the season progresses – and he’s made an impression on Day, too.
“He’s very serious about his football,” Day said. “It means a lot to him. He is low-maintenance, high-effort, and has a lot of talent. The more we can get him reps, the more he can play, the better off he’s gonna be. But I think he has a chance to be special.”
Steele Chambers could also potentially still be a factor at running back, too, though he spent Wednesday’s practice with the linebackers. While Day liked what he saw from Chambers in his first full day of practicing on defense, he isn’t ruling out the possibility that Chambers could stay on offense and see playing time at running back.
“We've talked about kind of going back and forth a little bit,” Day said. “But we still think very highly of him at running back. I think he's got a chance to have a major impact for us this year.”
With the depth Ohio State has at the position, this year’s running back rotation could include as many as three tailbacks playing on a regular basis. Day said at Big Ten Media Days that he would not want to rotate any more than three running backs, as he believes that would prevent all of them from getting into a rhythm, but it is likely multiple running backs will have significant roles in the offensive game plan this season.
“These guys are gonna have an opportunity to play based on again, what happens over the next couple of weeks,” Day said. “And it may be a little bit more situational, if that’s what we find, some guys do a little bit better on third down, short-yardage, those types of things.”