Ohio State football spring position analysis: J.K. Dobbins leads inexperienced running backs

Joey Kaufman
J.K. Dobbins powers for extra yardage against Northwestern in the the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 1 [Joshua A. Bickel]

Editor’s note: The Ohio State football team will conclude its spring practices at noon Saturday in the annual spring game in Ohio Stadium.

The spring game is a game in name only, of course. For the most part it is a modified scrimmage, the last of the Buckeyes’ 15 permissible practices in the spring.

But first-year OSU coach Ryan Day and his assistants will be looking to see how their new team responds in a competitive setting — albeit against teammates — and in front of a large crowd.

Ohio State drew more than 100,000 fans for a spring game a few years ago, and more than 80,000 last year despite stadium renovations. The capacity for this year’s game will be about 76,000.

With that backdrop, in the days leading up to the spring game, The Dispatch will assess where the Buckeyes stand at key positions.

Today: Running backs

Position coach: Tony Alford (fifth season).

Key loss: Mike Weber (honorable mention All-Big Ten).

Key returnees: J.K. Dobbins (honorable mention All-Big Ten), Master Teague, Demario McCall.

New to view: The spring game might offer fans an extended look at Marcus Crowley, the freshman running back who enrolled early for spring practices. Crowley is among a handful of runners vying to back up J.K. Dobbins. There won’t be a lot of healthy bodies, either. Coach Ryan Day said Wednesday that Master Teague, a redshirt freshman, had recently been slowed by an undisclosed nagging injury, and Demario McCall, a junior, has not practice this spring. The only other scholarship running back behind Dobbins is Steele Chambers, an incoming freshman who will not join the program until the summer. So that leaves Crowley, a talented high school recruit from Florida who rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior, to see more carries Saturday. Day said he was "a guy who has shined” in spring.

Unit ranking (on a 1-to-5 basis, 5 being the best): 3: There’s some reason for optimism. Dobbins will be the feature back, no longer splitting carries with Mike Weber, a development that could allow him to see 20-plus carries per game and better find a rhythm as a runner. But he also regressed some as a sophomore and there is little experience behind him on the depth chart.

Stat that worked: Dobbins was a threat in the passing game for the Buckeyes last season, catching 26 passes for 263 yards, an average of 10.1 yards per reception, up from the 6.1 mark he averaged as a freshman.

Stat that must change: Dobbins had a second straight 1,000-yard rushing season as a sophomore but was far less efficient on the ground, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. As a freshman, he totaled 7.2 yards per rush attempt.

Notable: Alford is the second-longest-tenured assistant on staff, brought on by Urban Meyer in 2015 and retained by Day. Among the 10 on-field assistants, only defensive line coach Larry Johnson has been with the program longer. Earlier in spring practice, Alford credited Day for giving the assistants autonomy with their position groups. “He lets us coach,” Alford said. “He allows us to coach. Own our rooms, if you will. That's not to say Urban didn't. He's not micromanaging things.”


Series schedule

Monday: Offensive line

Tuesday: Defensive line

Wednesday: Linebackers, specialists

Thursday: Quarterbacks, receivers

Friday: Running backs, defensive backs

Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Football podcast: