COLUMBUS — If there’s been one constant for Ohio State offensively over the last couple years, it’s been J.K. Dobbins.
When the Buckeyes struggled to throw the ball at times two years ago, Dobbins had a 1,400-yard season. When they were looking to get the ground game rolling a season ago, Dobbins still gained 1,000 yards. He’s been the mainstay of the offense that transitioned from J.T. Barrett to Dwayne Haskins, and he’ll be the key as Ohio State moves on to Justin Fields this year.
There are few questions surrounding Dobbins, but there are plenty for the running back position. It’s Running Back Week at Lettermen Row, and we have five burning questions for how things might shake out for the Buckeyes backfield.
Will J.K. Dobbins return to his freshman form?
J.K. Dobbins was a machine as a true freshman two years ago when he rushed for 1,403 yards and introduced himself to the college football world. But last year, Dobbins and the entire rushing offense rarely seemed to click. Now that Mike Weber is gone and the backfield solely belongs to Dobbins, he’ll be expected to become even more of a bellcow back than he has been through two seasons.
As new quarterback Justin Fields works to integrate into the Ohio State offense, Dobbins will be tasked with easing the transition of Fields and become the Heisman Trophy candidate he was supposed to be last season. He talked during the spring about starting over and acting like he had something to prove again this season. That could be a welcome sight for the Buckeyes.
Who will be the No. 2 running back for the Buckeyes?
There’s no questioning that Dobbins will be the feature back for Ryan Day’s first year as head coach. But who will give Dobbins breaks this season? That remains to be known.
Master Teague seems to be the popular answer, and as he enters his second year with the Buckeyes, he could stand out and give himself a head start on the starting running back job in 2020. He impressed coaches during the spring, so it could be Teague. Of course, there’s fan-favorite DeMario McCall, who has shown flashes of promise as he enters year three, but he’s also been injury- and fumble- prone. Right now, it seems like Teague would be the choice, but August 31 is a long ways away.
Will DeMario McCall finally break out?
DeMario McCall has made himself known to Ohio State fans over the last few years because of his potential and hype when he came to campus. After three years of fighting injuries and depth-chart jams, McCall finally has a clear path to playing time, as he could be positioned behind J.K. Dobbins and give Dobbins breaks when needed.
It’s not a secret that McCall is incredibly athletic. The Buckeyes shuffled him around between running back and H-back, but now he’s slated to find a spot on the running back depth chart. McCall could still wind up as an H-back with Jaelen Gill. Or he could wind up battling Master Teague and Marcus Crowley for running back time.
Can true freshman Marcus Crowley have an impact?
Crowley, an early-enrollee who was a 4-star prospect out of Florida, showed why he was highly recruited when he arrived to campus. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound back was elusive and looked to be a guy who can challenge for playing time as a freshman.
Teague and McCall have an advantage on the depth chart because they’ve been in Ohio State’s system for much longer than Crowley, but don’t discount the freshman’s ability. He might find time on the field early in his career.
Where do Buckeyes stand with 2020 running back recruits?
Ohio State will likely lose Dobbins to the NFL after this season, so the need for running back is definitely prevalent. As the Buckeyes grow thin in the backfield, they’re hot on the recruiting trail for some key, big-name prospects. Our recruiting expert Birm said this about 5-star running back Kendall Milton’s visit to Columbus earlier this month:
“Right now, after talking to a handful of different folks that were around Milton and his family during the weekend visit to Columbus, I think the Buckeyes are the team to beat in this recruitment. Milton was hosted by Garrett Wilson, and he had a chance to spend quality time with 5-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson, who made the trip up I-71 to visit Ohio State and help show Milton around.”
The Buckeyes are also after 5-star back Bijon Robinson and a couple in-state options.