The 2016 Running Back Situation

I know, the 2015 season is not yet over. This year, we have the best RB in the nation in Ezekiel Elliott, so why look ahead? For one, it’s fun, and for two, there are serious concerns for next season.

Coming into this season, there weren’t many, if any, concerns at the RB position. With a new, but great coach in Tony Alford leading the unit, and potential Heisman candidate who destroyed the previous post-season, Ezekiel Elliott, hopes were high. There was also a highly touted true freshman from Detroit, Mike Weber, who had an outstanding fall camp if not for the knee injury. Then, there were two solid, yet unproven 4th year juniors in Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn. To finish off the group was an electric true sophomore who converted to H-Back, but could still play RB, Curtis Samuel. The main worry was perhaps too many blowout wins would cause Zeke to not get enough carries to win the Heisman.

You likely know how the season played out. The blowout wins were non-existent. The Buckeyes had to “ride” Zeke to get wins. The Heisman Trophy was looking like a real possibility, though, until the infamous November 21st game against the Michigan State Spartans. Ezekiel was given 11 carries for 33 yards in the ugly 14-17 lost. Not only was it a bad game statistic wise, it ruined his streak of 15 straight 100 yard games, it diminished the B1G Championship aspirations, and Zeke’s Heisman hopes. Then came the “criticizing” and declaration for the NFL Draft. As Urban said, the comments were not wrong, they were just said in the wrong place. As for the declaration for the Draft, many people act like that was a result of the terrible game, but that’s simply not the case. Any person who has really followed the Buckeyes could tell you before the season even started that Zeke would leave for the draft after this season. There’s no reason for the top rated RB to stay another year and risk injury.

But, now that Zeke is officially (from his word, at least) going to be gone next season, it’s time to look ahead. Without Zeke, the roster for this unit is extremely inexperienced. It doesn’t help that would-be 5th year senior Warren Ball is graduating, and taking advantage of an opportunity to play football elsewhere. Since Warren is leaving, and new young skill is arriving, you have to wonder also about Bri’onte Dunn. Bri’onte is a guy that had a rough start to his Buckeye career. This year, he has had an incredible turn around in attitude and mindset, and according to Urban, Bri’onte “really has momentum in his world.” He has been great on special teams, and has been a very viable option as Zeke’s backup. Some of the coaches recently had a meeting with him, and they do think he will stay for his final year, but it’s impossible to say what will happen.

A guy I mentioned before is true freshman Mike Weber. Mike is from Cass Tech High School, in Detroit, that is recently becoming a sort of “pipeline” for the Buckeyes. After losing out on Damien Harris to Alabama, Mike was the Buckeyes really wanted. After a long fought battle, the Buckeyes barely pulled him from Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines. Mike is a guy that is extremely talented. Maturity is often a question that comes up with him, but that can improve over time, and it should. Mike Weber was good enough to be an instant impact type player for Ohio State. It didn’t help his cause when he tore his meniscus late in fall camp. That hampered him for the first several games of the 2015 campaign. By the time he was fully healthy, the staff didn’t see fit to burn his redshirt. I expect Mike to make a real run at the starting RB position next year, though.

A guy that will also be in the mix next season is Antonio Williams. He is the Buckeyes RB commit for the 2016 class, and is ranked the 7th best RB in his class by 247 Composite. Antonio is a “grinder” and a great HS player. This past season for North Stanly High School, he put up 10.6 yards per carry and 238.9 yards per game. He was a long time Wisconsin Badgers commit, but when the Kareem Walker situation started to happen, the Buckeyes needed to really decide what they wanted to do: Grab a commitment from another RB, or wait for Kareem to visit other schools and see if he remains committed. Obviously, the Buckeyes grabbed a commitment from a guy they had offered a while back, and has had their eyes on for quite some time, Antonio Williams. Once he committed, there was simply no room in the class for Kareem. If Kareem really wanted in, I’m sure the staff would’ve found room, but for now, Antonio is the guy. He will be enrolling in January, and some people on the staff think he can really be an instant impact type of player, but you never know with freshmen.

Another guy many fans have been questioning is Curtis Samuel. He is one of the most electrifying players on the team, and because of that, he was moved to H-Back where he wouldn’t have to be behind Zeke, and he could better get the ball in open field. Those things didn’t really prove to work that great. It’s not because Curtis wasn’t suited for it, but because of many outside reasons. One being he struggled with back spasms for a lot of the early season, two being a log-jam at WR (mostly Braxton), and an overall struggle in the throwing game. Curtis has taken some snaps out of the backfield this season, and it helps that was his main position his true freshman year. Many fans have just assumed that Curtis will be moving back to RB next year. That isn’t necessarily the case. While there’s still a good chance it happens, he missed a full year of development at that position, and the coaches like him at the H-Back position. Still, I think he will move back partially because of his potentially Dalvin Cook-styled game, but also out of necessity.

Some of you might be wondering about Demario McCall. Plans are for him to play H-Back despite his RB listing. According to a staff member, Demario is probably a little better than what Curtis Samuel was when he arrived at Ohio State. They both are very similar in speed, but Demario is more polished in his routes and catching.

Right now, we’re looking at 4 true scholarship RBs on roster next season. That would be Bri’onte Dunn,  Mike Weber, Curtis Samuel, and Antonio Williams. Of course, the staff is always looking at other guys in the 2016 class in case Bri’onte might want to transfer, but as of now, no offers have been handed out. If Bri’onte did decide to leave, and there was another RB added to the 2016 class, that would mean 2 true freshmen, 1 RS freshman, and 1 junior who hasn’t played RB in over a year. It is scary to think about, but we’re talking about some of the most talented players in the nation, and some of, if not the best coaches in the nation.

It’s certainly going to be different without Zeke leading the way, but the future is bright. The talent is abundant. It’s going to be fun to see how well the young guys develop. One thing is for sure, Tony Alford and his guys will do all the can to be ready to go for September 3rd, 2016.




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