Tony Alford wasted little time pining for what he no longer has. The Ohio State running backs coach knew what he was losing when Ezekiel Elliott decided to enter the NFL draft.
Tony Alford wasted little time pining for what he no longer has.
The Ohio State running backs coach knew what he was losing when Ezekiel Elliott decided to enter the NFL draft. It wasn't just the 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns Elliott had last year. It was also the ferocious blocking and maximum effort on every play.
But coaches must live in the present.
"I got past, 'Where's Zeke?' as soon as we started in January," Alford said. "Listen, they're on scholarship, too. It's their turn to play, and they better step up and play."
They are fifth-year senior Bri'onte Dunn, redshirt freshman Mike Weber, junior Curtis Samuel and early-enrollee freshman Antonio Williams. Somehow, someway, they must provide at least a good chunk of the production Elliott provided the last two years.
"I guess the question being asked is if we're going to do it by committee, and I don't have that answer right now," Alford said. "If we need to, absolutely. We're going to do whatever it takes to win football games."
Samuel isn't practicing this spring as he recovers from foot surgery. But he is a dynamic player who has also been used as a receiver and is likely to be used as an offensive wild card.
So for now, Dunn and Weber are competing. Both endured bumpy starts as Buckeyes after entering as blue-chip prospects. Dunn looked like he might never get in the good graces of coaches until he belatedly embraced a role on special teams and matured.
"It's been a long journey," Dunn said. "Some people have quick journeys. Some people have long journeys. I'm just trying to develop myself into being the best player I can be."
Part of that is taking the younger players under his wing.
"I'm the older person," he said. "I know the most. I'm just trying to be a leader and have Mike Weber and Antonio ready for any situation."
But Dunn is determined to do everything he can to win the job.
"I just want to go out with a bang," he said. "This is my senior year. I have a couple of goals, and I want to reach those goals and help my team."
When Weber signed in 2015, he was considered Elliott's heir apparent. But he suffered a torn meniscus in his knee during training camp that required surgery and was redshirted.
"Bri'onte Dunn and Mikey are neck and neck," coach Urban Meyer said this week. "Weber is an extremely talented guy. I'm very pleased with those two, and that young guy (Williams) is earning respect around here. He's a tough nut."
Coaches have indicated that Dunn might get dibs based on his seniority and growth. Meyer praised his development on and off the field.
"Br'ionte Dunn, I'm so impressed with him," Meyer said. "We all know that a couple years ago there wasn't a whole lot of conversation about him."
Dunn is more of a downhill, pounding runner, though he has played sparingly. He gained 91 yards in 14 carries last year. Dunn has run for 287 yards and four touchdowns in his career.
Alford described Weber as more of a slasher who can bounce off or away from tacklers. It takes more than running ability to succeed. Alford said that the pass protection must improve, though he praised Weber's progress in that area.
"The one thing we have to make sure that we're doing is that everyone is preparing themselves to be complete football players," Alford said. "They can run, they can catch, they can block, they can run routes, they can cut-block, they can run-block, they can pass-block, they can do it all. That's part of the preparation and how you go to work every day."
Alford is confident in the culture that's been established in the running-back room will be enough to help his inexperienced players get up to Buckeyes standards.
"It's my job to get them ready as the unit leader," Alford said. "Those guys are hungry to play ball, too. It's time to go."