In 2016, Mike Weber accomplished something only two other freshman running backs in Ohio State history did before him.
Weber reached the coveted 1,000-yard mark as he gained 1,096 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns for the Buckeyes last season. The only two other freshman running backs to accomplish that feat: Robert Smith (1,126 yards in 1990) and Maurice Clarett (1,237 yards in 2002).
Despite that accomplishment, however, it seemed like there was still a bit of hesitation from some fans when it came to the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. That's not necessarily Weber's fault, of course, as he had to replace one of the most successful running backs in school history. Weber wasn't Ezekiel Elliott — a near impossible task for anybody, let alone a freshman running back.
But with that year of playing experience under his belt and another spring in the books as Ohio State's starter, big things are expected from Weber in 2017.
“He’s growing up,” running backs coach Tony Alford said this spring. “I’ve said that all along and every time there’s a little bit more of the growth process going on. He’s a real dude if you will.”
“His approach to the game, his approach to how he takes care of his body, his approach to the younger players in the room, it’s all changed,” Alford continued. “The thing is we want it to be like that immediately but some guys it takes a little longer. It’s a maturation process.”
Weber will be Ohio State's workhorse in the fall. He's the starter. Both Alford and head coach Urban Meyer said there is quite a bit of separation between Weber and the rest of the Buckeyes' running backs.
But that doesn't mean the others won't play. It might be hard to keep a couple of them off the field in some capacity.
Heading out of spring practice, Ohio State doesn't have a clear-cut No. 2 running back. Sophomore Demario McCall and freshman early enrollee J.K. Dobbins appear to be battling for that position and there's a possibility both have some sort of role in the offense this fall.
McCall is kind of a hybrid running back as opposed to a true between-the-tackles runner. He displayed an impressive ability to catch the ball out of the backfield in the spring game with a 40-yard touchdown catch on a wheel route. He is shifty and elusive in the open field and can be a dynamite return man for the Buckeyes, as well. McCall said it's possible he sees some time at Meyer's famed H-back position in the fall, but this spring he worked exclusively at running back.
Dobbins is more of a natural running back. By all accounts, he's impressed everybody in his first college action this spring and he did enough to move past Antonio Williams on the depth chart. Williams missed some action with a hamstring injury which gave Dobbins an opening. Meyer said earlier in the spring Dobbins would play this season.
How much Dobbins and McCall play remains to be seen, but Ohio State might be at its best by using both as a complement to Weber. The redshirt sophomore from Detroit will — and should — get the majority of the carries, but a little change of pace certainly couldn't hurt.
The Buckeyes having more than one capable back is good for all parties.
“I see [Weber] is going to be pushed a little bit,” Meyer said. “The best thing that can happen is competition and we didn’t have much last year at that position.”
Ohio State was fortunate last season to have Curtis Samuel lessen the burden on Weber when it came to carrying the ball. With Samuel headed to the NFL, that obviously won't be the case this season.
What spring taught us, however, is that in McCall and Dobbins, the Buckeyes once again have capable complements for their workhorse running back.