Next Man Up: How Buckeyes can replace dynamic Trey Sermon in backfield

Spencer Holbrook05/07/21
Master Teague by Birm-Lettermen Row
Ohio State running back Master Teague is competing for the starting spot. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State had an incredible season last year on its way to the national title game, where it beat Clemson in the semifinal and fell short against Alabama. Many of the key players from that team moved onto the NFL. Who could step in to make plays similar to what the former Buckeyes made last season? Lettermen Row is breaking down key plays and who could make them. Next up: How the Buckeyes can replace the record-breaking production of Trey Sermon in the backfield.

COLUMBUS — Ohio State has a problem in the backfield that needs to be solved.

But it’s a great problem to have: What do the Buckeyes do with all the talent assembled at running back? 

Although the problem is a good one, it’s not an easy one.

Ohio State has one of the deepest running back rooms in the country. The only concern running backs coach Tony Alford, Ryan Day and the Buckeyes staff have now is how to keep all six capable rushers in the fold.

Only one running back can earn a bulk of the carries. And that position is one of the most intriguing on the roster heading into a crucial summer period as the Buckeyes look to replace record-breaking running back Trey Sermon.

Trey Sermon-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Trey Sermon will be tough to replace for Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“A lot of depth, a lot of guys, certainly a lot of talent,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said during spring practice. “What a great opportunity this spring to have these guys go compete. We’re going to try to do the best we can to simulate games this spring to get a feel for where these guys are at. 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.”

That’s not even mentioning the two top-100 overall players Alford recruited to play running back at Ohio State in the last recruiting cycle. Four-star Evan Pryor and five-star TreVeyon Henderson will push Teague, Crowley, Chambers and Williams for carries. But who will grab control of the starting tailback job for the Big Ten’s best program?

Lettermen Row is trying to sort through the talent and evaluate where things stand in the running back room entering the summer.

Ohio State options

Master Teague III: Master Teague is the incumbent running back for the Buckeyes, potentially giving him an edge entering the summer. His dependability and strength make him a powerful option for the Ohio State offense. But he seems to have a certain ceiling on what he can do in the open field, limiting the Buckeyes running game at times. Plus, he was again limited in spring due to undisclosed injury concerns. If he shows improvement during training camp, Teague could flex his experience and take control of the running back room once again, continuing as the bell-cow back. But the loaded Ohio State tailback room is full of other young players ready to take over for Teague.

Marcus Crowley-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Marcus Crowley earned carries in the national title loss to Alabama. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Marcus Crowley: After suffering an ACL injury in November 2019, Marcus Crowley rehabbed his way back onto the field last season — in the national title game. He wasn’t ready to go in for game action until then, and even then, he didn’t feel like he was back to full strength. Now he does. Crowley, the former Gatorade Player of the Year in the football-rich state of Florida, has excellent vision, good cutting ability and a burst of speed that is tough to find. Now entering the summer healthy, his third season at Ohio State offers a chance to be a breakout year for the Buckeyes.

Miyan Williams: When Teague was injured and Ohio State needed a backup for Trey Sermon at points last season, Miyan Williams provided a quick boost. Williams isn’t the speediest running back in the room, but his powerful, bowling ball style makes him an intriguing option. He flashed as a freshman and again this spring. Can Miyan Williams take the next step and grab control of the starting running back job? He’s certainly in the mix to do so. No matter where he ends up on the depth chart, the Buckeyes will have a role for him in the offense.

Miyan Williams-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ohio State running back Miyan Williams will be in the mix for carries. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Steele Chambers: Steele Chambers has a skillset that could translate to a role in the running back room, but the depth chart just may be stacked against him. He struggled with fumbling issues last year and could be the back most likely to be lost in the shuffle. But if he has a surprising fall camp, he could be due for a breakout few see coming for the Buckeyes.

TreVeyon Henderson: Ohio State needed a massive running-back win on the recruiting trail in the class of 2021. And TreVeyon Henderson gave Tony Alford and the Buckeyes just that. Henderson is the best running back in his recruiting class and is among the highest-rated running backs to ever choose Ohio State out of high school. He possesses every skill necessary to be one of the top backs in the country during his time with the Buckeyes. Henderson has already lost his black stripe and is making a push for early playing time. The only question: How long can the other backs in the room stay ahead of him before he takes over the starting job?

Evan Pryor: Like Henderson, Evan Pryor gave the Buckeyes a win on the recruiting trail in the running back room when they needed one. Henderson and Pryor like the idea of being in a two-man running back class. Henderson could be more of an elite running-back prospect, but Pryor has different skillsets that separate him. He catches the ball well out of the backfield and has a burst of speed that rivals those in the room with him. He’ll also be tough to keep on the sideline early in his career. But in the loaded room, he may have to wait for his true opportunity.

TreVeyon Henderson-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

TreVeyon Henderson is pushing for the starting tailback role. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The pick: Committee approach until TreVeyon Henderson takes over

Ohio State may take the starting running back job opening all the way to the season opener against Minnesota. If that happens, the Buckeyes should work with a running-backs-by-committee approach, giving carries to Teague, Crowley and Williams while allowing Henderson to settle into live college football action. Maybe one of those three can take control of the starting spot before Henderson emerges.

But the emergence of Henderson seems to be inevitable, especially if he lives up to his five-star billing early in the season. He might just be too good to keep off the field. If that is the case, he’ll receive most of the carries by the midway point of the season. And Ohio State could have its next dominant starting tailback in time for another run at a national title.