Tony Alford Believes Ohio State Running Back Room is “As Strong As Anybody’s in the Country” Despite Relative Lack of Attention

By Griffin Strom on May 17, 2022 at 8:35 am
Tony Alford

Running back isn’t the first position that gets brought up when most people talk about Ohio State.

With multiple first-round NFL draft picks at wide receiver, the recent string of Heisman Trophy finalists at quarterback and the reputation and recruiting success at defensive end under Larry Johnson, Tony Alford’s room can be overlooked sometimes.

But Alford has no problem flying under the radar, relatively speaking. In fact, he seems to prefer it that way.

“With all due respect, they don't need to talk about us. The less the better,” the Buckeye running backs coach said on May 6. “Listen, that's for the fans to do and to talk about. It gives them something to chew on, if you will. But our job is to just go play ball. Go take care of your business off the field, academically, socially, all those things, and just go play ball. Just continue to improve on your skill set, be the best player you can be for our football team, and then people will talk about you. When need be, you'll be spoken about. Until then, put your head down and go to work. 

“Because here's what I'm gonna say when people are talking about you: They can flip on you just as quickly. Right? We've all been there, too. So don't worry about what people are saying, good or bad. Appreciate what people do and say and keep it moving.”

The notion that any position group that includes TreVeyon Henderson – who rewrote the record book for first-year Buckeye backs last season – could be all that overlooked may seem silly. Widely expected to be among the top running backs in the country this season, Henderson chewed up 1,560 yards of total offense and 19 total touchdowns in his first campaign at the college level, and he did all of that without even playing his senior year of high school due to COVID-19.

Still, Alford saw shortcomings in Henderson’s performance at times – normal for any freshman – and has only pushed him to sharpen his tools ahead of a second year in which much will be expected of the five-star recruit and Virginia native.

“Just to continue to learn our offense and to entrench him more and more as far as his football IQ into our offense. I challenged him about some pass protection stuff which I think he did in the spring,” Alford said. “He’s getting stronger. I think that he was worn down by the end of the year. Because you gotta remember, he was a kid – much like Evan (Pryor) – who did not play his senior year in high school. He went from his junior year, skipped a year, and then got into the fall. I think by the end of the season, Trey was worn out. I know he’s gotten stronger with Coach Mick in (the strength and conditioning) program. 

“He’s becoming more of a leader, which I asked him to do and will continue to ask him to do. Accountability has never been an issue and never will be. So yeah, I think he had a good spring as far as his pass protection things, he’s starting to learn the offense and become more and more comfortable and more entrenched in what we’re doing, so it’s been good.”

Even after his stellar first year, Henderson may be feeling overlooked himself, given his reaction to one Twitter post by Pro Football Focus on Monday.

While Henderson may be the bellcow back and star of the group, Ohio State’s running back depth may be its most undervalued quality. No other running back carried the ball half as much as Henderson last season, but on just 71 attempts, Miyan Williams managed to rack up 507 yards (for a team-leading 7.1 yards per carry) despite being limited by injury for several games. Now entering his third season in the program, Williams may be trending upward right alongside Henderson.

The same can be said for Pryor, a second-year back that saw just 21 attempts out of the backfield while redshirting as a freshman. Somewhat slight of build coming out of high school, Pryor has put on weight this offseason and turned heads in both open spring practice sessions as well as April’s spring game, where he finished with 106 total yards and a touchdown on 13 total touches.

Spectators aren't the only ones who have been impressed by the North Carolina native’s offseason.

“He had a really good spring and developed the way we wanted him to. He needed to gain some weight, that was a priority to him, to us. So he did that, he bought in at full complete buy-in to what we were trying to get done,” Alford said. “He had a really good spring of development. He's finally starting to show some things that we thought he could do for our offense and and so really excited about where he's headed. He had a good spring and so excited to see where he goes, the next step into the summer months.”

Given that both Williams and Pryor stuck around this offseason even in a transfer portal age more volatile than ever before, it’s clear both will expect a role in the Buckeye offense this season. Afford didn’t say anything in his post-spring interview session to dispel the notion that it might be possible for all three to get the ball in 2022.

“It's a good group. I love being around them,” Alford said. “They're good dudes, they're good guys. They're fun to be around. It's fun to come to work with them every day. You know, you don't have to worry about a bunch of foolishness going on. Guys take care of their business, and they all come to play obviously. So we've got to find a way to get them all touches and all on the field.” 

Just don’t mistake the perceived lack of recognition with any feelings of inferiority on behalf of the Buckeyes. Alford will pit his room up against any in the nation, and the collection of talent in that group appears to have the potential to prove him right in any such assertion.

“We don't get talked about a lot, and that's fine. We don't need to be. We know what we have and what we're doing whether people talk about it or not,” Alford said. “But I think we've developed a really good room and in my personal opinion – I'm biased, I'm gonna throw that out there now – I think that from top to bottom, our room’s as strong as anybody's in the country.”

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