J.K. Dobbins gained 1,053 yards and ran for 10 touchdowns last season. His blunt description for that — failure.
The returning running backs behind Dobbins gained a total of 156 yards a year ago. Ryan Day calls that a worry, and the Ohio State coach is clearly more concerned about that than he is about Dobbins.
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With Mike Weber off to the Dallas Cowboys, Dobbins is the unquestioned featured tailback for the Buckeyes. Dobbins was a revelation as a freshman while Weber struggled because of a hamstring injury. Dobbins gained 1,403 yards and averaged 7.2 yards per carry in 2017.
Last year, the duo shared duties. Feeling pressure to make the most of every carry, Dobbins saw his yards-per-carry average slip to 4.6. When it was suggested that his 2018 numbers weren’t bad, Dobbins replied, “You say it wasn't a failure, but to me it was failure.”
Right after the season, Dobbins went on a diet and did extra workouts. He reduced his body fat by 4 percent. His body fat is now only 8 percent while his weight held steady at 215 pounds.
Dobbins believes he is ready to carry whatever load the Buckeyes need.
“I loved having Mike here,” he said of Weber. “There were benefits to sharing carries, but knowing that I'll be getting more carries than in my first two years is kind of a good feeling because I'll be able to get into a rhythm.”
Dobbins will be running behind an inexperienced quarterback and a new-look offensive line. A fast start is essential.
“I want to have that responsibility of the team leaning on me in time of need,” he said. “That's another reason I went on the diet, because I know I'm going to have to help my team out a lot. We have some talented guys at quarterback, but they haven't really played before.”
Although Dobbins said his primary goal is to help Ohio State win the national championship, he does have another.
“I just feel like I'm the best running back in the nation,” he said, “and I want to prove that. I didn't last year, and I have a chip on my shoulder because I know I can do better.”
Day has said that he intends to ride Dobbins, especially early. Justin Fields, the presumed quarterback, is an elite runner himself, but keeping him healthy must be a priority. That means other running backs must emerge.
So far, Day is still waiting. Redshirt freshman Master Teague, who gained 106 yards last year, was rehabbing an unspecified injury on the side Tuesday during the portion of practice open to the local media.
Junior Demario McCall has shown glimpses of his breakaway ability, but injuries and position shifts have made him an enigma in his Buckeyes career.
Asked about McCall’s role, Day said, “The first thing he's got to do is become the backup running back. … We're really just focusing on him being the backup running back because J.K. can't handle all of that by himself. He’s going to need help.”
Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers are talented freshman who’ll also get their chances.
“We have a lot of guys battling for it, but we do not have a legitimate backup running back right now,” Day said.
The good thing is, they have a legitimate starter, and a hungry one at that.
“I feel like I can rush for way more yards this year because last year was a failure to me,” Dobbins said. “(I’ll show) more pop, more explosion, more everything. You'll see this year.”