Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford faces challenge of filling big hole
Better than almost anyone, Tony Alford knew this day was coming.
The Ohio State running backs coach recruited J.K. Dobbins and molded him after the Texan arrived on campus in 2017. Alford knew there would be no senior season at OSU for Dobbins.
The junior announced Monday that he would enter the NFL draft after becoming the first Ohio State player to run for 2,000 yards in a season.
Alford will miss Dobbins dearly, but a coach's job is to prepare for what's next. As daunting as replacing Dobbins is, Alford is confident in the players remaining in his room.
“I feel really good,” Alford said last week before Ohio State's 29-23 loss to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal. “We've got some really good young players.”
The heir apparent is Master Teague III, who made third-team all-Big Ten as Dobbins' primary backup this year. The redshirt freshman from Tennessee rushed for 789 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
“He's had a really good year for us and we're really, really, really excited about his future,” Alford said. “He's growing up. He's taking more ownership and leadership in the room, as he should as he matures through the program.”
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Teague is a powerful and deceptively fast runner. But he's not as elusive as Dobbins, and most of his yardage came against overmatched opponents. Against Clemson on Saturday, Teague gained only 9 yards in seven carries.
He believes he's ready to take over as the featured runner.
“I'm really excited to continue the tradition of great running backs at Ohio State and the high expectation and the high standard here,” Teague said at Fiesta Bowl media day. “I'm very confident with my preparation these last couple years.”
Teague will have competition. Freshman Marcus Crowley was impressive in limited action. The one-time player of the year in Florida averaged 9.5 yards in 25 carries at the end of Ohio State blowouts before a knee injury ended his season in early November.
“He's going to come back fine,” Alford said. “We have an amazing doctors and medical staff. … I think he's got a chance to be really, really good. He had flashes of that before going out.”
Fellow freshman Steele Chambers averaged 7.1 yards on 19 carries.
“Spring ball is going to be extremely, extremely important for him in his growth and maturation,” Alford said.
A potential wild card is Demario McCall, who'll be a fifth-year senior next year. He's talented but has yet to settle into a defined role.
Joining the group in the summer will be freshman Miyan Williams of Cincinnati Winton Woods. Williams was a late addition to the recruiting class after a couple of higher-profile targets committed elsewhere, but the Buckeyes are excited about his potential. Alford repeatedly used the word “tough” to describe Williams.
Alford himself could have joined Dobbins in leaving Ohio State. He interviewed for the head coaching job at his alma mater, Colorado State, that went to Steve Addazio. But Alford made it clear he's in no hurry to leave OSU.
“I love it here,” he said. “It's been the best job I've ever had. Our players are unbelievable, and the culture of this program has been built. Coach (Ryan) Day is amazing. I'm blessed, and I don't take this for granted at all.”
With Dobbins' departure, Alford has a big job in 2020.
“I like our room,” he said. “We're nowhere near where we need to be as we move forward, but there's going to be great competition in that room.”