McCall emerges as backup tailback

Joey Kaufman
Demario McCall, who only carried the ball eight times last season, will be Ohio State's backup running back behind J.K. Dobbins. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

A clearer picture of Ohio State’s depth chart at running back emerged Wednesday night.

Running backs coach Tony Alford said Demario McCall was on pace to begin the season as the backup behind J.K. Dobbins.

The pronouncement appeared to end one of the more compelling position competitions from preseason training camp and one that held the attention of Coach Ryan Day, who at times lamented of not yet having a "legitimate" backup.

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McCall was vying for the role with redshirt freshman Master Teague III as well as freshmen Steele Chambers and Marcus Crowley. Teague, though, had been limited by injury.

Alford credited McCall’s leadership and added size for his ascendance.

“He's bigger, so he's been able to be a little more physical,” Alford said. “He's an older guy, he's providing leadership, he's making plays. He's playing with a good rate of speed.”

One of the roadblocks to the field for McCall earlier in his college career had been his smaller frame. The school listed the 5-foot-9 running back at 182 pounds when he first arrived as a freshman in 2016. He has since risen to 195 pounds.

A bit lighter than most running backs, McCall was shuffled to other positions on offense, often practicing as an H-back or slot receiver. The shuffle stopped this month.

“One of the things that's helped him some is he has been able to focus on just this and not bounce around,” Alford said. “I think that's helped him.”

With more practice time at running back, coaches stressed better fundamentals for McCall beyond breaking for runs.

“One of the things I had to get better at was just pass blocking,” McCall said. “Pass blocking is a huge deal here, and I had to get better at. I think I'm improving.”

McCall said he felt a greater sense of urgency entering this season. The former four-star recruit faces only two more seasons of college eligibility and has yet to match the production from a modest freshman season in 2016 when he got 49 carries, rushing for 270 yards and three touchdowns.

A groin injury cost McCall most of the 2017 season, limiting him to three games and allowing him to seek a redshirt season, then he had only eight carries last season.

One reporter asked McCall if he felt it was “now or never.”

McCall didn’t disagree with the premise.

“I do feel that way,” he said. “Now is the time.”

Alford said he realized McCall was ready to emerge as the backup about a week ago.

Behind him in the current pecking order was a bit hazier. Though if the team was preparing to play in a game, Crowley, one of the freshmen, would be next, Alford said. After enrolling a semester early to participate in spring practice, Crowley took a leap forward in some of the recent practices.

“He’s really come into his own,” Alford said. “He had the ebbs and flows of being a true freshman, the highs and lows and the peaks and valleys and the plateaus. In the past three or four days, he's done a nice job. You can tell he's playing with a lot more confidence.”


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