Ohio State’s search for a backup running back involved freshman Marcus Crowley on Wednesday.

Crowley, from Jacksonville, Florida, lined up with the second-team offense during an early portion of the preseason practice that was open to reporters.

In recent days, Crowley seemed to impress his coaches. The black stripe on his helmet was removed after practice Tuesday — a rite of passage for newcomers in the program — and he garnered further praise from coach Ryan Day the following day.

“He's big, he's strong and he's tough," Day said. "He's still learning the offense. He'll still make some freshman mistakes here and there, but I like his toughness.

“He'll stick his face on people. He practices really, really hard. Just needs more experience. Just needs to stay focused and make sure that he knows what he's doing when he's out there, because when he does, he runs hard and he's physical.”

Listed at 6 feet 1 and 205 pounds, Crowley not only stands out as a hard-nosed runner, but he held an edge over other freshmen after enrolling a semester early to participate in spring practice.

Day mentioned that as many as four running backs remain in the mix to back up J.K. Dobbins. Besides Crowley, the others are fellow freshman Steele Chambers, junior Demario McCall and redshirt freshman Master Teague III.

McCall is the most experienced with 71 career carries, but he missed spring practice. Teague also dealt with an undisclosed injury earlier in preseason camp. Those setbacks kept open the competition for the second spot on the depth chart.

If there is a determining factor in the following weeks, it likely will be the little things.

“The biggest thing is going to be ball security in the end,” Day said. “Who do we trust?”

Under center

Some of Ohio State’s quarterbacks mentioned last week that they had taken snaps under center. It suggested a deviation from the previous seasons under former coach Urban Meyer, when the QBs almost exclusively lined up in a shotgun formation.

Day downplayed the difference Wednesday, saying “it's something you always look at every year.”

“We've messed around with it a little bit,” Day said. “We'll see. Still kind of evaluation phase. You do some things here and there. We'll mostly be in the gun this year.”

Day added that the team would mostly use under-center snaps in short-yardage situations.

Quick hits

Senior wide receiver Austin Mack, who has been held out of recent practices with an undisclosed injury, remained limited Wednesday, though he was seen in stretching lines early in practice. Day said there was no update on Mack, who is set to return to practice later this week. … Joshua Alabi continued to line up at left tackle with the first-team offense in the viewing portion of practice, filling in for returning starter Thayer Munford, who is recovering from injury and is on “volume control.” … Day said he expects to name the team’s captains in the coming days.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman