Ezekiel Elliott is on the mend. Curtis Samuel is being tried at hybrid back. And new running backs coach Tony Alford is at spring practice bearing a clean slate. For Bri'onte Dunn, that means the time is right for him to make his move after being part of coach Urban Meyer's first recruiting class at Ohio State, and Alford has told him as much.

Ezekiel Elliott is on the mend. Curtis Samuel is being tried at hybrid back. And new running backs coach Tony Alford is at spring practice bearing a clean slate.

For Bri'onte Dunn, that means the time is right for him to make his move after being part of coach Urban Meyer's first recruiting class at Ohio State, and Alford has told him as much.

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"We had that conversation, 'This is your opportunity to really get a bunch of reps, and what you do with that is up to you,' " said Alford, who coached at Notre Dame last season before being hired to replace Stan Drayton, now with the NFL's Chicago Bears.

Alford is watching and is prepared to make his own judgment "and not go in with some preconceived notions on who somebody is," he said.

Dunn understands.

He and Warren Ball were mired on the third and fourth teams last season as Elliott's star rose during the run to the national championship - as did Samuel's during his freshman season.

This spring, Elliott is recovering from postseason surgery on his left wrist - the second procedure in six months - and Samuel is being tried out at hybrid back, just to give him a chance to play more.

"It's a very great opportunity," Dunn said. "Me and Warren Ball are getting lots of reps, and it's getting me better each and every day. Coach Alford is really pushing us, and I've really built a great relationship with him."

The challenge is obvious.

"The biggest thing a player has got to prove is on offense, you've got to make plays," Dunn said. "And you've got to be able to block. So that's what I've been working on."

Elliott is a finalist for the Sullivan Award to be presented to the nation's top amateur athlete on April 19 and is even considered the early favorite for the Heisman Trophy. The procedure he underwent in February included a bone graft to strengthen the joint.

"I got my cast off Monday," Elliott said yesterday. "It's a six-week process getting my mobility back, and after those six weeks, I'll be full-go."

He has his routine as the rest of the Buckeyes go through two-hour on-field workouts on the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

"I'm not really practicing with the team, I'm just getting my speed work on the side," Elliott said. "I get my mental reps (standing behind the offense, imagining what he would do as, say, Dunn runs a play) when I can."

Looking at Elliott, it's obvious which wrist was injured.

"I can feel it getting better, but right now it's real small, real weak. I get a little bit of pain here and there; the bone is not fully healed," he said. "I've still got six more weeks."

Last season, he rushed for 1,878 yards, just 49 short of Eddie George's record of 1,927 set in 1995, when he won the Heisman.

Not only that, Elliott also helped provoke an NCAA rules change proposal that calls for banning the crop-top jersey that exposes the midriff. If Elliott has a beef with that proposal - and he seemed to on Twitter when it first was revealed - he didn't let it be known yesterday.

"The NCAA has its rules, and it's our job to abide by them," Elliott said.

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports