Running Backs Everywhere and not a Drop to Drink [2010 Season Preview]

For the past two years, while watching the USC/OSU game, we’ve had to suffer through hearing OVER AND OVER how loaded USC was at the running back position. They had a veritable “stable” of running backs, we incessantly heard. It made us groan inwardly (outwardly. LOUDLY). Sorry, rest of the country, but you’re going to hear that refrain quite a bit during the 2010 season, only this time they’ll be talking about the Buckeyes “stable” of running backs.

Maybe a that should be “Grove of Buckeyes”?

Months ago, a good friend of mine asked what I thought about the running back situation for the 2010 season. I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. Coach Tressel is faced with a decision most coaches would love to have. Who does he throw out there in a given situation? Who is going to shoulder the load and be the workhorse? It’s not exactly straightforward. Each running back brings his own strengths and weaknesses to the field.

With that in mind, lets take a look at the stable of stallions Jim Tressel has amassed:

Brandon Saine

Strengths: Soft hands, top speed
Needs Improvement: Running with Authority

Off all the running backs in the stable, Brandon Saine is the most versatile. He’s got the speed, has good hands and has excellent body control. He isn’t a bruising back, it’s important to get him out on the edges. He’s also got soft hands and can flare out and contribute to the passing game. Last year Saine hauled in 17 passes for 224 yards. Could Saine be our version of Percy Harvin? Used in the right way, absolutely.

We all remember the flashes of brilliance we saw from Saine as a freshman during the 2007 Washington game but that potential was shelved when Saine was hampered with injuries the following year. A healthy Saine enjoyed a breakout year splitting time with Herron in the backfield. Saine should be primed to shoulder the load.

How should he be used? I really hope we see that shotgun counter play that Brian loves so much. He fits perfectly in the wide-open option read sets and the passing game. Saine is versatile enough to fit in every facet of Ohio State’s offense this year.

Daniel “Boom” Herron

Strengths: Works hard and runs harder
Needs improvemnt: Vision

“Boom” is probably getting the most out of the least of all Ohio State’s running backs. Boom runs bigger than he actually is. Tossed into the fire after Beanie Well’s 2008 toe injury, he has the most game experience. He doesn’t have the top speed of an elite back and his vision leaves a bit to be desired but no one has more heart. He also has huge hands, which will come in handy for goal line situations Boom will certainly be called upon for.

Boom will be integral to this season’s offense, but it will be more than just what he does on the field. I think Boom’s experience will be his greatest contribution to the younger backs.

Jordan Hall

Strengths: Vision, Quickness
Needs Improvement: Experience

Almost forgotten in the last few games of last season, but let’s not forget how well he performed when both Saine and Herron struggled through injuries. Some people around these parts (SYR) think Hall played the best last season, especially after his big game against New Mexico State (which should be taken with a certain sized grain of salt). As much as it pains me to say, you could draw some favorable comparisons of Hall to HWSNBN (That’s Maurice Clarett to all the new MotSaG readers). He seems to find the holes other backs haven’t been able to find.

Hall has the advantage of having a low center of gravity, allowing him to cut and weave while maintaining his momentum. He’s isn’t a blazer but he is sufficiently fast for what he’s asked to do.

Finally, it can’t be understated how comfortable Hall and Pryor, former HS teammates, look together. While other backs may have more physical gifts or skills, Hall has the rapport with Pryor. That has to count for something.

Jaamal Berry

Strengths: Speed and agility
Needs Improvement: Injury prone?

Jaamal is the enigma of the 2010 season. We have been waiting for two years to see what he can do. He has crazy speed and size and is probably the only back on the team that can go the distance from anywhere on the field but we still don’t have anything to go on. He wowed fans early on but never saw the field due to nursing a hamstring injury all last season. Let’s hope that’s a thing of the past and not that Mr. Berry is going to be injury prone.

As far as the 2010 season goes, I know Berry is low on the depth chart, but I get the feeling that Berry will make things happen when he gets his chance and will see the field early and often.

Now Musberger is going to just need to come up with a nice little catch phrase for Berry. Maybe “Sweet as Berry pie”?

Jermil Martin

Strengths: Size, hard runner
Needs Improvement: Not a good fit, schematically

Jermil is going to be a fan-favorite (if he sticks around). He’s the kind of player that’s easy to love, big and lunky but light on his feet. Martin had his day in the sun against Minnesota, busting right up the middle to the adulation of Buckeye fans everywhere. Of course, it was against Minnesota and everyone was having fun in that rushing game party. But Martin would only see the field again against NMSU, which of course means nothing.

Martin has great size and is nimble on his feet but that’s not going to be enough. He isn’t a good “fit” for the offensive schemes (fat jokes aside). He could be called upon for short-yardage and goal line situations and he will be loved by fans, I just don’t think we’ll see him on the field a whole bunch, what with the talent that the Buckeyes already have.

Carlos Hyde

Strengths: Size and Brings the Pain
Needs Improvement: Not enough data

Carlos Hyde is another one of those players that gets fans excited coming out of high school but has personal struggles getting to the next level. Hyde was not academically available for the 2009 season, so Carlos needs to get his stuff together and qualify himself to enroll at OSU and join the team for 2010.

When he does suit up, he’s going to be a load to carry. Vico compared him to PJ Hill (the Wisconsin one, not the basketball one). He should be fun to watch. In the future. I don’t see him getting a ton of playing time this season.

Roderick Smith

Strengths: Size and speed
Needs Improvement: Not enough data

On film, Smith passes the look test. He has the size (6′ 3″) and speed (4.5 40) to be the next classic Eddie George/Robert Smith cruiser that Ohio State loves to have. But, like Carlos Hyde, we’ll probably be waiting a little while before we see Smith for extended periods of time.

So heading into the 2010 season, where does that leave us? Are there too many backs in the fold? For some reason this was never a problem when USC had 38 different backs, will it be a problem for Tressel? Is there a transfer in the future for someone?

We’re going to see a steady diet of Boom, Saine and Hall with Berry coming on strong over the course of the season. There isn’t one particular stand-out or overachiever but this running back-by-committee should hum along just nicely as long as everyone buys in and keeps the team’s best interest in mind. This hasn’t been a problem in the past but all of these guys were the best of the best coming out of high school. How they handle the situation they are in will go a long way in determining the success of the team as a whole.

(And lest you think we’ve forgotten the full backs, rest assured we are aware of their exsitence and necessity. I love a bulldozing FB just as much as the next guy, but for our purposes here we’re talking running backs that are bringing sexy back. We did already mention Zach Boren in our offensive line preview and let’s be honest, these guys are glorified linemen, so we’ll go with that.)


  1. it’s a great problem to have.

  2. I think Saine is underrated as a power back. More than a few times last year he moved the pile 4 yards by himself. I’ve been surprised at how few times he’s broken away to really show his elite speed. Can’t wait to see the young ones.

  3. @SBB – it’s definitely nice to have this many talented backs, but it seems like it also sets up for the possibility for dissent for those guys not seeing the field. Everyone wants to be able to play.

    @Gravey – If Pryor develops a nice soft touch, I could see Saine showing that break away speed running under a few nicely thrown passes from Pryor.

  4. @Gravey – Saine has balance, but not a bruising running style. Seems like any time someone tries to take down Saine, he can get 2-3 more yards by rolling forward. He’s a big strong dude. He doesn’t run like it, but he falls like it. And that’s a compliment.

    @MOTSG – Look out for Berry. I have no data to back that up. But I expect him to get his.


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