COLUMBUS — The shot to prove he was the right man for the job lasted just one day for Master Teague.
Ohio State hasn’t given any indication yet when he might have another crack at it, but immediately ruling Teague out for the rest of spring camp obviously isn’t a positive sign for the presumptive starting tailback and next in line to handle the program’s rich rushing tradition.
The Buckeyes were already facing questions about the depth in the backfield and the daunting task of replacing record-setting sensation J.K. Dobbins after he declared for the NFL Draft, and losing Teague for any amount of time is only going to ramp up the degree of difficulty. There’s no sense in speculating about the timeline for a full recovery for Teague at this point. But Ohio State only had two scholarship tailbacks healthy heading into the first practice — and now it’s clearly going to have to get creative with 14 more to go.
“Yeah, we’re one injury away from a little bit of a crisis right now,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said on Monday. “But in the end, when it comes to September we’re going to be OK.
“We’re going to get Marcus [Crowley] back before the season starts. And then we have Miyan [Williams] coming in. Once we get to the summer, we’ll be whole. … That position, when it comes time for the fall, is going to have to step up in a big way.”
The preparations for that challenge were already underway, and they just got tougher for the Buckeyes. It remains to be seen exactly how severe the injury is for Teague, but with him ruled out for the rest of spring camp at a minimum, Lettermen Row is looking at how the Buckeyes might proceed from here.
Demario McCall needs to help Ohio State at tailback
The move back to wide receiver for Demario McCall is probably over after just one practice. And while the Buckeyes wanted to find creative ways to use his athleticism and he grabbed an impressive touchdown catch on Monday, it seems like a no-brainer that McCall will have to return to running back given Ohio State’s sudden lack of depth at the position.
That spot is certainly not going to be new to the veteran, though he’s largely struggled to make an impact there throughout his career so far. Last season was supposed to be his big opportunity and he was slated at one point during training camp as the favorite to be the backup behind Dobbins. Instead, he slipped all the way to fourth behind both Master Teague and Marcus Crowley and was no longer getting much consideration to work out of the backfield.
The situation has changed dramatically now, and Ohio State might also need to think about trying a guy like Jaelen Gill out there if he gets healthy just to see if the former high school running back could lend a hand.
“Demario can still do that, though,” Day said. “We’re just starting him out at slot, and we can always bring him back. He has that skill set. It’s something that we’ve always tried to find that role for him where he can be a running back and also be a matchup problem for teams like that.”
Steele Chambers set for huge opportunity with Buckeyes
The Buckeyes had a choice last year with two freshmen running backs, and they elected to pull the redshirt on Marcus Crowley and let him keep building momentum. An injury cut that productive debut campaign short, but Ohio State still elected to leave Steele Chambers on the sideline — but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t developing or that he’s short on potential.
Chambers finished with 135 yards and a touchdown during his four-game taste of experience with the Buckeyes, and he’s got a solid combination of size and speed that could certainly make him a factor moving forward. Based on his first practice of spring, he’s also been taking full advantage of the strength program and appears to be better prepared now for the physical toll that position can take in the Big Ten.
Now he’s going to get every rep he could possibly handle in spring camp, and that’s a rare, massive opportunity for a second-year player to show what he can do. Chambers will eventually have some competition on his hands by training camp, but a strong showing in March and April could be a real springboard for his career.
Rushing attack will be tweaked for Ohio State
Even if Ohio State was completely healthy at running back, odds are the rushing attack itself was always going to look different next season. Dobbins was a truly special talent, and given Ryan Day’s flexibility with the playbook, the junior became a weapon that Ohio State wanted to build the system around last year.
Based on the personnel on hand now, Day was probably already going to be inclined to lean more on the dual-threat ability of Justin Fields, a couple elite wide receivers and a rock-solid group of tight ends. When it comes to running the ball, Ohio State could simply rely on dynamic athletes like Garrett Wilson or Jameson Williams to take a few jet sweeps or pop passes instead of just feeding handoffs to a bellcow back like Master Teague.
The Buckeyes certainly don’t want to wear Fields out as a rusher, but he’s going to have to shoulder more of that load — and he’s proven both that he can and will do whatever the program needs. The play-calling was going to be different no matter what, but there will certainly be more urgency to tweak the approach now.
Ohio State will kick tires on transfer portal
There will be no solution instantly showing up on campus this spring. But Ohio State will absolutely now be monitoring the transfer portal for a running back with immediate eligibility this season — and if it wasn’t already one of the most appealing destinations in the country, it will be even more attractive if there’s an opportunity to compete for the starting job available.
The portal doesn’t appear to have many high-profile options for Ohio State at this point, but there could be candidates who emerge after spring camps end around the country. It’s rare when the ideal fit materializes for both program and player like it did with Jonah Jackson and the Buckeyes offensive line last year, so it’s not like that can be counted on as a surefire solution for Day. Ohio State, though, likely has no choice but to pursue any options that exist if Teague’s injury looks to be a long-term issue.
For now, there won’t be a roster addition that can bolster the depth at tailback for Ohio State with Master Teague out of action. Who knows, maybe by the end of spring it could find out that it doesn’t need any outside help. But at this point, the smart money would be on the Buckeyes looking around and doing their homework on any rushers looking for a new home.