Ryan Day Excited About Ohio State’s Depth at Running Back

By Dan Hope on April 1, 2024 at 8:35 am
Dallan Hayden, TC Caffey and Sam Williams-Dixon
Dallan Hayden, TC Caffey and Sam Williams-Dixon

Because Ohio State has been without a full-time running backs coach since Tony Alford left for Michigan, Ryan Day has spent a lot of time working with the running backs himself over Ohio State’s past two weeks of spring practice.

He likes what he’s seen from the position group, particularly how they’ve picked up the wrinkles being added to Ohio State’s running game by new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly.

“I think all the running backs have run hard this spring,” Day said Saturday. “I think that they're seeing a little bit of the different schemes that we're doing – not that they're that much different, but just a little bit different – and they're picking that up really well.”

Ohio State’s top two running backs don’t have much to prove this spring.

TreVeyon Henderson has already been one of the Buckeyes’ biggest stars for the past three years. Quinshon Judkins is in his first offseason as a Buckeye, but he’s well-established as one of college football’s top running backs after earning first-team All-SEC honors in both of his seasons at Ole Miss.

That said, Henderson has impressed Day with the leadership he’s shown as the established veteran of his unit. Judkins has had little trouble acclimating to his new team, as evidenced by his black stripe removal following only six practices as a Buckeye.

“I think Trey's done a great job with his leadership,” Day said. “Quinshon’s done a really good job coming in.”

The more important objective for Ohio State at running back this spring is to build depth behind Henderson and Judkins. While those two are likely to receive the lion’s share of carries for the Buckeyes this season as long as both remain healthy, depth has never been as important in college football as it will be this year with the expansion of the College Football Playoff. Even without that, Ohio State had to reach deep into its running back depth chart due to injuries in each of the last two seasons.

Dallan Hayden has seen playing time in both of those seasons as a result, and he’s performed well when the Buckeyes have needed him to step up. Yet he played in only four games last season as Ohio State decided to redshirt him, and his outlook for consistent playing time entering his redshirt sophomore season remains uncertain after the Buckeyes brought in Judkins.

Based on what Day said Saturday, though, it sounds as though Hayden is doing what he needs to do to solidify himself as Ohio State’s No. 3 running back and make the case that he belongs in the rotation, too.

“I think Dallan Hayden’s had a really good spring,” Day said.

Ohio State’s current roster of scholarship running backs is rounded out by a pair of true freshmen, James Peoples and Sam Williams-Dixon, who each saw plenty of action during Saturday’s Student Appreciation Day practice that was open to OSU students and reporters. Both of them looked strong running the ball during the scrimmage, and Day said he has been impressed with them as well.

“It's great to see both James and Sam coming in as freshmen and picking it up quickly. You can see both of them, they have talent,” Day said.

James Peoples
James Peoples is one of two early-enrollee freshman running backs participating in spring practice along with Sam Williams-Dixon.

Another running back who Day believes is capable of contributing for the Buckeyes this season is walk-on TC Caffey, who flashed as a freshman with a 49-yard touchdown run against Toledo in 2022 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Caffey didn’t play at all last season, but Day made a point to highlight him while talking about the running backs on Saturday.

“The other guy who’s been very, very good in there and I think is going to play for us and get carries for us is TC Caffey,” Day said. “He's done a very good job, he's very disciplined in his approach and he’s a guy that can really bring value for us.”

Ohio State’s running back development will certainly be bolstered by the Buckeyes hiring a new running backs coach, and Day said the Buckeyes hope to complete that search this week. Over the weekend, multiple reports identified Oregon running backs coach Carlos Locklyn as a candidate to fill that vacancy; 247Sports’ Matt Zenitz reported late Sunday night that a deal with Locklyn could be finalized as soon as Monday. (Update: Ohio State finalized its contract with Locklyn on Monday.)

Day hasn’t rushed into making a hire, though, because he felt it was more important to make sure Ohio State found the right person rather than replacing Alford immediately. And he’s excited about where Ohio State’s running back room is at midway through spring practices even as they’ve had to navigate a position coach transition.

“I'm excited about all of them, and I think it's a deep room. I'd like to think it's the best room in terms of talent in the country,” Day said. “We're going to continue to build on that.”

View 43 Comments