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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The running back position was one of the biggest questions marks of the spring, but that has nothing to do with the uncertainty of talent in Ohio State's offensive backfield.
With Brandon Saine departing to graduation and 1,000-yard rusher Dan Herron missing the first five games of next season while serving a suspension, the Buckeyes are in the midst of trying to figure out who will tote the rock this season.
The Buckeyes just finished their spring football sessions just a week ago, but that doesn't mean the discussion in regards to the Ohio State football team dies down at BuckeyeGrove.com.
Today we start the a series in which we will look at each position on the team and discuss what we know, what we can expect, and what we have learned and break it down for the 2011 season.
Next up his Herron and the running backs:
Returning: Dan Herron, Jaamal Berry, Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde, and Rod Smith
Losses: Brandon Saine
Spring Newcomers: None
Fall Newcomers: None
Tight end depth chart
1 Dan Herron (5-foot-10, 202, rSr.)
7 Jordan Hall (5-foot-9, 195, Jr.)
4 Jaamal Berry (5-foot-10, 200, rSo.)
34 Carlos Hyde (6-foot, 235, So.)
24 Rod Smith (6-foot-3, 230, rFr.)
1. What does Herron's suspension mean for him?
There's no question Herron's suspension is big for this team, and it isn't too hard to figure out why. Last year Herron rushed for over 1,000 yards for the Buckeyes and scored 16 touchdowns, perhaps the best individual season any running back has had for Jim Tressel since Beanie Wells. And the most interesting thing about that was Herron came into the season as the apparent backup to Saine and was a heavily scrutinized player by the fans before storming onto the scene as one of Ohio State's biggest options in 2010.
But Herron will sit down for the first five games of next season after selling memorabilia given to him by the university. The Buckeyes have ample talent in the backfield to replace him while he serves his suspension, but missing a large part of his final season is truly something Herron admits thinking about from time to time. But when it comes to contributing to the team, its hard to imagine he wouldn't jump right back into a large role with the Buckeyes in game No. 6 at Nebraska.
2. Hall has the most experience, what should we expect from him?
The coaching staff has had plenty of opportunity to talk about Hall this spring and not one ill word was uttered. The coaching staff has loved Hall since the moment he stepped on campus and has great expectations that he's the type of player that makes things happen. Though he stands just 5-foot-9, Hall sports perhaps the best vision of any running back on the team and is extremely difficult to bring down in open space.
With that said, it doesn't look like he has the frame to carry the ball 25 times in an Ohio State offense that's surely going to be run-oriented in the early portions of next season. But that doesn't mean the staff is going to find ways to get him the ball. This spring Hall was utilized as a running back, but a lot of times he was running routes and screens out of the backfield, the coaching staff's attempt to get him the ball out in space. Hall could take the role that Saine had last year, where he's constantly making plays but not always receiving hand offs. Also expect him to take part in returns on special teams.
3. Who was the most impressive running the ball in the spring?
Perhaps the most impressive offensive player this spring in general was Berry, who showed his big play ability and explosiveness throughout the course of the spring. Though he was the most impressive running back of all, he carried the ball only twice in the spring-concluding scrimmage in Ohio Stadium. Though he was on the field quite a bit, it isn't clear whether or not that's indicative of anything that could carry over into the fall. But when looking at Berry run the ball this spring, there was something about the combination of his vision, burst, and awareness that makes him a threat to take it to the house. Picturing Berry moving into a big role this fall just seems natural.
4. Big things have been said about Smith, what did you see?
Since the moment Smith showed up on campus he's been the next big thing at running back. However, he showed up late his freshman season in 2010 after missing all of fall camp while tightening loose ends with his high school academics. By the time he did show up in the fall, the coaching staff had decided it was too late for the running back to be a real contributor on the field in his first season.
But that doesn't mean the talent isn't there. Fellow teammates have compared him to Beanie Wells and the big running back seems to be the talk of the town. Though we didn't see much of him this spring, every time he carried the ball he fell forward when a defender tried to bring him down. He runs very smoothly and has a nice hesitation move complemented by a huge burst. Its hard to imagine what his role will be in the fall given all the talent around him, but he looks like he has the potential to be a star.
5. How do you anticipate the carries being split up in the fall?
Much like the other position battles this spring, there isn't an established order in which players will be shuffled off the bench and into the ball game. Just like in the spring game, the hierarchy at running back wasn't quite what we expected. It seems only easy to assume that Hall will be in the game on Ohio State's first play from scrimmage in 2011, but the running back carries could be split up quite a bit. Though there are 29 fall practices before Ohio State graces the Horseshoe, the coaching staff has always mentioned sticking with who is hot. They will probably determine that by getting multiple guys in the first few games to get a feel of what people bring in a game situation. After all, Hall is really the only one of the five that has extended game experience.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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