How Buckeyes will manage deep, talented tailback competition

Austin Ward6 months
Aritcle written by:Austin WardAustin Ward

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Tony Alford by Birm
Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford has plenty of options this spring. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — The process itself is nothing new for Tony Alford at Ohio State.

Just about every spring involves a competition at the top, speculation about how many running backs he’ll use and a healthy dose of patience while he lets the battle play out as long as possible.

But Alford will admit that’s never had a camp quite like this one with six different guys all capable of potentially handling the job for the Buckeyes. And that has certainly made it more important than ever for Ohio State to have a clear idea of how it wants to manage one of the most intriguing races on the roster.

“I’ve talked to them all about this: There will be some days where some guys get more reps than others,” Alford said on Tuesday. “They need to understand that. But if you’re upfront with them in open, transparent conversations and honest conversations, they’ll know as we go through the spring they’ll understand. ‘Today it’s this guy, tomorrow it may be you.’ Because there are certain things I have to design to see, and it’s all about putting them in competitive situations.

“I haven’t been in this situation where I’ve had this many guys that we’ve got to get reps for to see not only what they can’t do — maybe it’s to see what he can do. It’s a little unique. But it’s also a fun challenge. For me as a coach, every single day that I come in here I’ve got to be prepared and have a clear, concise plan for exactly how I want to attack every day so nothing gets lost in the shuffle. We don’t have time to just say: ‘Let’s see what happens.’ We’ve got to attack every single day.”

The Buckeyes have already checked two of them off the list to open spring camp, and the intensity gets ramped up yet again on Wednesday as the pads go on for the first time. What has Ohio State learned so far about the running backs after winter workouts and a couple days back on the practice field? Here are some key takeaways for Lettermen Row about all six candidates for the Buckeyes after the running backs and Tony Alford met with the media on Tuesday morning.

Marcus Crowley-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State running back Marcus Crowley is looking to regain his freshman form. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Marcus Crowley regaining strength for Ohio State

Nearly 14 months after being sidelined by a knee injury, Marcus Crowley made his return under the brightest lights possible in the national-title game.

He wasn’t ready, and Crowley had no problem admitting that to position coach Tony Alford on the sideline then. It also should have come as no surprise considering how long he had been away from competition, although Ohio State trusting him enough in such a high-stakes situation was a reminder of just how much belief it has in his potential coming off his lengthy recovery — which is now in the rearview mirror.

“My health right now, I would say I’m 100 percent,” Crowley said. “You know, last season was a long journey after the Maryland game tearing my ACL [in 2019], and then with COVID, it was harder than what it should have been. I feel like everything went smoothly, shout-out to the trainers and everybody because I’m feeling good for this upcoming season.”

Master Teague pushing to lead Buckeyes

The Buckeyes have proven to be flexible with their approach in the backfield, and Master Teague has seen both ways work for the program during his career. Whether it’s a committee or a bell-cow back, the veteran is open to any role that helps Ohio State win another Big Ten title.

But obviously Teague has a preference.

“Of course I want to be that guy,” Teague said. “But we’ll continue to make each other better and compete. Whatever my role is going to be that’s best for the team, that’s going to be my role. We’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of guys. That helps us stay fresh in practice and helps us for the overall health of the unit — and the team, too.”

Miyan Williams-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State running back Miyan Williams is looking to build off an impressive freshman campaign. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Miyan Williams feeling surge of attention at Ohio State

All it took was a glimpse of Miyan Williams to change the general perception about his future with the program. It’s safe to assume the second-year tailback is no longer flying under the radar for Ohio State.

For their part, the Buckeyes always bristled at the notion that he was a last-gasp option as a recruit and have consistently touted his potential since he arrived last summer. But Williams certainly didn’t garner all that much attention in Ohio State’s loaded room of running backs until turning heads off the bench against Michigan State and Northwestern — then delivering three eye-catching carries for 21 yards against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.

“It felt good, it was fun to play out there with my teammates,” Williams said. “That was an experience I enjoyed … [and] yeah, I got way more followers on my social media. After that Clemson game, my followers went up a lot, a lot of people starting talking about me and noticing me.

“It doesn’t really affect me, but it’s just a little surprising to me.”

TreVeyon Henderson ready to put pads on for Buckeyes

TreVeyon Henderson doesn’t mind a little contact. And after missing his senior season of high school football thanks to COVID, he appears to actually be craving it.

After a long layoff from live, competitive action, the five-star recruit will finally get to put the pads on with the Buckeyes on Wednesday morning. Henderson still spent the last year training for this opportunity with grueling workouts with his track coach, but there is simply no substitute for the real thing.

“I don’t think it set me back,” Henderson said. “We put the pads on Wednesday, and all I need is that one good hit to wake me up and I’ll be good.

“I worked pretty hard during that time I didn’t have a season. I was training with my track coach at my high school and he was getting me physically and mentally prepared for this moment.”

Evan Pryor-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State freshman Evan Pryor will try to find a role early with the program. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Evan Pryor looking to hit home runs

Evan Pryor and TreVeyon Henderson always envisioned a partnership that would help both of them get to the next level at Ohio State. And how that Thunder and Lightning-style dynamic could play out is already clear in the way both are preparing for Wednesday’s key practice.

Henderson wants contact and would appear better suited for the between-the-tackles grind for the Buckeyes. Pryor looks suited to work out in wide spaces and is an option in the passing game out of the backfield looking to lean more on his elusiveness — and trying to avoid using his pads whenever possible.

“I’m ready,” Pryor said. “First of spring ball was fast, and I think I made that adjustment well. But on Wednesday, whatever happens, happens. I know I’m going to go hard and do what I do — which is try not to get hit. If it happens, oh well, keep pushing. But my goal every time is to go to the end zone.”

Ohio State not planning to move Steele Chambers right now

There simply isn’t room for everybody to touch the football. The math with six running backs and one football doesn’t work, and at some point it’s inevitable that changes to the roster will occur.

One possible solution to keep those talented athletes in the program would be a position change, and Steele Chambers would almost certainly be the top candidate for a move given his ability to play linebacker at the collegiate level. For now, though, Ohio State isn’t prepared to make that kind of switch with Chambers.

“It’s not something that I’ve had any conversations with him or his family or with Coach [Ryan] Day about,” Alford said. “Steele Chambers is focused on becoming the best running back he can be, and I’m focused on helping him become the best he can be here. We’ll go from there. … We’re just in shorts, but he’s looked really good.”

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