As Ohio State’s climb into the strength of its schedule begins this week against Maryland, coach Urban Meyer is dealing with a conundrum at running back that, to hear him tell it, is a good thing.
Fast-starting freshman J.K. Dobbins and sophomore Mike Weber, the 1,000-yard back from last season who appears over an early-season hamstring problem, are both raring to go.
“It’s really the first time I’ve had this quality of backs complementing each other,” the 16th-year coach said Tuesday.
How he and his coaches handle the shuffle will be interesting to watch.
“We’re working on playing them both at one time, they’re that quality of players,” Meyer said. “When you put your best 11 up on the board, those two names surface, so our obligation is to play the best players.”
Weber said some two-back sets are in the works. He said he and Dobbins share a hotel room the night before games and they often talk about being “a good one-two punch.”
“Our goal is to be the best (backs) in the country,” Weber said. “Coach Meyer has been working hard at getting us together, trying to get sets where we’re both on the field at the same time. It should be real nice.”
And if it’s actually used?
“I feel like it’d be something scary,” Weber said. “We both are pretty similar, but different at the same time. I feel like the defense is not going to be able to handle that if we do it the right way.”
Beanie Wells was a prized freshman running back in 2006 on an Ohio State team that had a returning 1,000-yard rusher in Antonio Pittman. He recalled the desire to get on the field regardless, so he knows what he would do with Dobbins and Weber.
“Run the wildcat with those two,” Wells said, referring to using a direct snap to one of the backs. “Along with both being good runners, they’ve both shown they are willing to be team guys and go out there and block for the other guy.”
But that wouldn’t work on every down. Wells, a former NFL first-round draft pick who now co-hosts a show on WBNS-FM radio, said the real effort should be to determine who’s hot on a particular day by giving them a similar number of carries.
“At the running back position you’ve got to kind of get into a rhythm,” Wells said, “and whichever one of those gets into that rhythm first, you’ve kind of got to ride that hot hand.”
That is Meyer’s intention.
Along with ball security and production, he said, “A running back has got to provide energy to the offensive line, and Mike and J.K. do that. You can tell (who’s hot). It’s not much different from a fan when you’re watching the game, where you can just feel every time that guy touches the ball,” something special is possible.
But if it’s one back at a time, someone has to start.
“That’s a tough call, but I think from what we’ve seen from the beginning of the season I’d probably keep riding with J.K.,” Wells said. “Like Mike, he runs between the tackles tough and he also has the ability to hit the home run, something up to this point we haven’t seen Mike Weber do. But Weber is really good, too. They both deserve to play.”