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Five Questions for wide-open, talent-laden tailback race at Ohio State

Austin Ward06/07/21
Article written by:On3 imageAustin Ward


Miyan Williams 6 by Birm-Lettermen Row
Ohio State running back Miyan Williams has a crack at the starting job. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The summer offseason is in full swing, and Lettermen Row is trying to survive it with our annual Position Week breakdowns. By the time all nine units at Ohio State have been covered, training camp and media days will nearly have arrived — and the return of football in the Horseshoe will be just around the corner. Let’s roll right along by turning the attention to the running backs for the Buckeyes.

COLUMBUS — Ohio State found the ideal bridge to a new era at running back.

Now the Buckeyes just have to figure out exactly what’s on the other side.

The record-breaking, abbreviated season from Trey Sermon wound up being the perfect fit for both parties, allowing the Oklahoma transfer a chance to prove he was an NFL-caliber tailback while giving the Buckeyes a chance to reload after the departure of J.K. Dobbins.

Those two only added to the rich tradition for one of the most prestigious positions in college football. And that keeps the bar high as Ohio State heads into training camp with a wide-open battle to claim that role with as many as six legitimate contenders in the mix.

“A lot of depth, a lot of guys, certainly a lot of talent,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said early in spring practice. “Master [Teague] comes back, which is great. He brings some experience to the table. Marcus Crowley is now coming off that ACL, so now we get to see the best version of him. Miyan [Williams] really popped this year, showed some great things. Steele [Chambers] is going to get an opportunity to compete, and then you have two young guys. I know that they are coming in here to play.

“A lot of depth there, but an opportunity for those guys to come in and compete. It’s going to be exciting to watch.”

The race might also be challenging to manage with so many quality options on hand, particularly with each bringing different skills to the Buckeyes.

So, what all needs to happen over the rest of the offseason and into training camp for the Ohio State tailbacks? Let’s dig in with Five Questions for the Buckeyes as Running Backs Week gets rolling at Lettermen Row.

TreVeyon Henderson-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State freshman TreVeyon Henderson could start in Year One. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Will Buckeyes roll with committee approach?

Tony Alford has proven that he can be flexible, leaning heavily on a star rusher when necessary or rotating when the situation calls for it in the backfield. He also doesn’t lock himself into a decision without all the information, and he’s not likely to have at the start of the season considering some of the inexperience on his depth chart. Miyan Williams flashed his impressive upside as a freshman, but that was only with a handful of carries. Marcus Crowley did the same two years ago, but he’s coming off a long rehabilitation process. TreVeyon Henderson looks like a ready-made star, but he’s still just a true freshman who didn’t get to play football last year. The only known quantity is Master Teague, but the Buckeyes have probably seen his ceiling and will almost certainly be giving those other options looks early in the season. Odds are Ohio State will be spreading around the touches at least in the opener at Minnesota, and while it might not be ideal in a top-1o showdown the next week against Oregon, it could take time before a clear pecking order emerges.

How quickly will TreVeyon Henderson impact Ohio State?

The Buckeyes certainly seemed intent on slowing down some of the hype for the five-star freshman during spring camp. But TreVeyon Henderson made that tough by showing up physically looking the part, embracing every workout thrown his way and flashing the kind of all-around skill set that is simply rare for running backs. Position coach Tony Alford will still be quick to point out how to Henderson how much there is to learn. And Ohio State is not going to rush him into the lineup before it’s fully comfortable that he can handle everything required at the position — including dirty work like picking up blitzes. Anybody watching Henderson at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in the spring could see he’s got the potential to be a superstar. What remains to be seen is how quickly he’ll be able to transition to the championship level for the Buckeyes.

Can Miyan Williams build on late-season surge?

Any conversations that Miyan Williams was just a consolation prize on the recruiting trail have pretty much already been silenced. He only needed a couple carries in key situations as a freshman to prove that he belonged with the Buckeyes — and that the coaching staff trusted him when it mattered most. The sample size is still small for Williams, though, so it’s not like he’s heading into training camp as a surefire starter. But he’s clearly been motivated since before he even stepped foot on campus to prove himself as one of the nation’s best rushers, and his fire was only burning brighter after COVID protocols robbed him of a chance to play in the title game in January. As he continues to improve his body with an impressive work ethic, there’s a decent shot that Williams could be in line for the first rushing attempt of the season.

Master Teague-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State running back Master Teague has found the end zone plenty for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Where does Master Teague fit into Ohio State plans?

The leadership can’t be questioned. The work ethic is impeccable. The straight-line speed is elite. And no tackler ever wants to meet Master Teague at the goal line.

None of those positives should ever be dismissed when it comes to the veteran rusher, and his experience also will certainly factor into the equation for the Buckeyes heading into the season. Teague has given the program plenty, and he absolutely has a chance to offer more moving forward. But at the same time, Ohio State has also seen some of the limitations and perhaps his ceiling as a running back as well over the last couple seasons against top-notch competition. It’s probably unfair to label Teague as just a short-yardage weapon, although he might be one of the best in the country in that situation. But it’s also hard at this point to envision him as the leading option for a team with national-title aspirations — though Teague will certainly have another chance to make that case in August and September.

Can healthy Marcus Crowley get rolling again?

The long journey back wasn’t over even when Ohio State put Marcus Crowley on the field in the national-title game. Yes, that move meant he was physically cleared from his devastating injury as a freshman and that Alford had confidence in his ability. But Crowley quickly realized there was more work to be done as he tried to get comfortable cutting on his knee again and restart the momentum that was building when the Buckeyes elected not to redshirt him in 2019. A full spring camp was crucial for Crowley in that regard, and he’s once again turning heads with the speed and agility that made him the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida as a high-school senior. Crowley also can’t be ruled out of the race to take that first carry of the season, which is another reminder of just how much talent the Buckeyes have to work with this fall.