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Challenge to take ‘next step’ starts now for Master Teague

Master Teague-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State running back Master Teague has the first crack at winning the starting job for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Challenge to take ‘next step’ starts now for Master Teague

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and Master Teague? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

The hole is unmistakable, so it’s no surprise that the urgency to fill it is already there for Ohio State.

At this time of year still nearly two months away from spring practice, there’s rarely much reason to dive much into the depth chart or for Ryan Day to issue any challenges to specific individuals on his roster. But in his wide-ranging press conference on Wednesday as the Buckeyes start to turn the page to the 2020 season, Master Teague came up a couple times — and it’s no secret why.

Among the early departures to the NFL Draft, J.K. Dobbins certainly isn’t going to be the first or second guy off the board from Ohio State. But he might be the most difficult for the Buckeyes to replace since the defensive line is loaded with talent behind Chase Young and the secondary has Shaun Wade poised to take over for Jeff Okudah. When it comes to an every-down tailback capable of making a case as the best player in America at the position, Dobbins left huge shoes to fill in the backfield.

Teague is going to have the first shot at it. And for most of last season, he looked ready for the challenge as he came off the bench to complement Dobbins with his bruising style, underrated speed and a one-cut approach that allowed him to rack up yardage in bunches. But whether he hit a wall, defenses started to figure him out or he simply wasn’t ready to be the primary threat, Teague faded down the stretch in the biggest games of the season and finished with just 45 yards on 21 combined carries over the last four games — including a zero-touch outing in the Big Ten championship.

Master Teague-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State running back Master Teague will be looking to build on the positives from last season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

So, the question during offseason workouts heading into his third year in the program: Are the nearly 850 yards overall last year an indication that Teague is ready for a primetime role or is the door open for Marcus Crowley or Steele Chambers thanks to those late struggles?

“Obviously in the running back room, those guys will be pretty green,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Master played some this year, but we’re going to have to replace J.K. [Dobbins].

“It’s hard with Master because he came into some of those games late in the games and really was a great change of pace. He was downhill. He got through it. And he got to the next level and rolled. But what really didn’t happen for Master this year is in big moments early in the game or — he didn’t get a ton of those carries. J.K. got the meat of those carries. So that’s the next step for Master is now taking on that responsibility and knowing what he’s doing and having some confidence in that, because he does have the ability.”

The Buckeyes have seen that up close and personal, and in the big picture, Teague was one of the most impressive contributors off the bench for a team that was a play or two away from heading to the national title game. But as Ohio State starts building for a return to the College Football Playoff, it obviously knows how significant the challenge of replacing Dobbins is going to be or it wouldn’t already be throwing down a challenge to the next guy in line.

Now it’s up to Master Teague to prove he can handle the job.

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Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.