COLUMBUS — So much for the value of spring practice for the Ohio State running backs.
If anything, the Buckeyes could have used a cancellation one week earlier. At least then a banged-up, inexperienced unit might have saved itself from one extra injury as it looked to revamp and reload after losing one of the most productive tailbacks in school history.
The Achilles tear for Master Teague during the opening workout in March ramped up the questions for a unit that was already under close scrutiny given its importance to Ryan Day’s offensive system and everything the Buckeyes lost when J.K. Dobbins declared for the NFL Draft. Some of the issues couldn’t have been sorted out until training camp or the first few games of the season anyway, especially with Marcus Crowley already recovering from a knee injury, freshman Miyan Williams not even on campus — and Trey Sermon not even confirmed as a graduate transfer yet by the time camp would have ended if not for the pandemic.
But adding another injury left Ohio State with just one healthy, scholarship tailback in March. And while that was surely a missed opportunity for Steele Chambers, cutting those practices short and hoping to get some time back in the summer was probably a blessing in disguise for position coach Tony Alford.
“One thing we have is some pretty smart kids,” Alford said. “We’ve got guys who are very bright and guys like Master Teague or Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers who have been here. So, they kind of know what we’re trying to do. All we can do is hope for the best that they’ve been taking care of their game and trying to refine their skills on their own [during the shutdown].
“Hopefully when they’re back here we’ll pick it up and roll from there.”
The Buckeyes are back on campus, though the official team activities will still have to wait for probably another month.
But once the football work resumes, the tailbacks are still going to be one of the fascinating groups to watch at Ohio State. And as Running Backs Week winds down at Lettermen Row, our staff is making some bold predictions about what this season will look like for them.
Austin Ward: Trey Sermon will have 20 touchdowns for Buckeyes
There is no doubt that Trey Sermon knows how to find the end zone after finishing his Oklahoma career with 25 touchdowns. Sermon also knows what it’s like to score in the Horseshoe having done that against the Buckeyes back when he was a freshman. That combination of experience, impressive physical tools and even his familiarity with Ohio State should all translate into a prolific season as the primary backfield threat. And while he might not match all of the numbers J.K. Dobbins posted a year ago, he will come close when it comes to touchdowns — thanks in part to a boost from his ability to be a target in the passing game out of the backfield.
Birm: Trey Sermon will rush for 1,500 yards at Ohio State
Ohio State had its first ever 2,000 yard running back in 2020 and the stage is set for another monster year by a Buckeyes tailback. Sermon is healthy and he’s hungry. He picked the Buckeyes because he saw an opportunity to make an impact. And though Master Teague appears ahead of schedule in his recovery, the Oklahoma transfer is in a prime position to be the lead back for one of the country’s premier offenses — and he looks ready to take on that pressure head on.
Tim May: Trey Sermon will lead committee approach for Buckeyes
It was almost lost in the blur of the 2019 campaign that J.K. Dobbins turned in the greatest rushing season in Ohio State football history. But looking forward, it’s obvious there are huge shoes to fill in regards to replacing the output of Dobbins, now in the NFL. While the Ohio State running back effort this year looks destined to be a committee approach, Trey Sermon, the transfer from Oklahoma, will prove to be the committee chairman at the outset. He is said to be healed from a knee injury suffered midseason last year, and there is ample evidence he is elite when healthy. His presence lessens the pressure on Master Teague III to return from his spring Achilles injury until he is fully ready to roll.
Spencer Holbrook: Justin Fields finishes second in rushing yards
Ohio State should be just fine in the running game, and Trey Sermon will likely be the featured back in the explosive offense. But Master Teague’s status for the beginning of the season is still unknown. Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers are inexperienced. And Miyan Williams will have to learn the playbook before contributing as a freshman. That leaves the door open for Fields and Sermon to provide a nice one-two punch in the backfield. When healthy, Fields can make himself look like a running back in the open field. In his second year in the Ohio State offense, the run game will expand to include him more.
Will Crall: Marcus Crowley becomes valuable weapon for Ohio State
Master Teague and Trey Sermon are established as the Buckeyes top-two running backs, but don’t sleep on Marcus Crowley. The sophomore running back rushed for 237-yards as a freshman before suffering a season ending knee injury against Maryland. Crowley was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida as a senior in high school and has very impressive film. The competition to be the second option in the backfield is full of intrigue, but there’s no question that Crowley is a capable No. 2 option for Ohio State. My friend Beanie Wells loves his game, so that’s good enough for me. Crowley will have a big year.