Marcus Crowley looks for larger role in Ohio State backfield after recovery from ACL tear

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State running back Marcus Crowley is eager to show his coaches that he is fully recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him through most of the 2020 season.

Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford was standing on the sideline during January’s loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game when he was approached by Marcus Crowley.

Seeing his team humbled by the Crimson Tide’s formidable defense, Crowley offered an admission to his position coach.

“He looks up and says, ‘Hey, man, I apologize,’ ” Alford recalled. “It's the middle of the game. I said, ‘Apologize? What are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘You’ve been saying I wasn’t ready. And I'm not.’ ”

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Crowley had waited all season to carry the ball for the Buckeyes. After tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee late in 2019, he spent most of the offseason months rehabbing the injury and fell behind on the depth chart at running back by the time the team opened its season in October.

But he was suddenly called upon against Alabama after Trey Sermon suffered a dislocated shoulder on the opening series. Crowley totaled 14 rushing yards on six carries.

After he had spent most of the previous weeks frustrated by limited opportunities, the challenge of facing Alabama proved to be an eye-opener.

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“It took him playing, getting knocked off balance because he wasn’t strong enough, and things like that,” Alford said.

Now 16 months removed from injuring his knee in a 2019 game against Maryland, Crowley believes he has made a full recovery and reported feeling 100% as spring practice opened earlier this month.

He is among the half-dozen scholarship running backs looking to carve out a larger role alongside Master Teague III in Ohio State’s backfield. Sermon’s departure leaves more carries up for grabs.

As a freshman in 2019, Marcus Crowley put up impressive numbers for Ohio State in a backup role, gaining 237 yards on only 25 carries.

Crowley believes he can assume a larger role. Fully healthy, he said he is more agile this spring than last year.

“At the end of last season, I still wasn’t able to cut as sharply or as quickly as I can now,” he said. “That’s just come with the more rehab that I’ve been doing, the more treatment I’ve been doing, working with the trainer and everything.”

Marcus Crowley's road back 

A four-star recruit in the Buckeyes’ 2019 class, Crowley turned heads as a freshman. Spelling J.K. Dobbins and Teague late in some lopsided OSU wins in 2019, he ran for 237 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts, an average of 9.4 yards per carry.

Rehabilitation from a torn knee ligament presents usual challenges, but Crowley felt especially tested last season.

“It was harder than it should’ve been because of COVID,” he said.

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A bulk of his offseason recovery took place during a months-long pandemic-related shutdown of athletic facilities at Ohio State and college programs across the country.

Access to facilities was limited, and like many of his teammates scattered across the country last spring, Crowley spent the time in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.

Ohio State Buckeyes running back Marcus Crowley (24) runs past Maryland Terrapins defensive back Nick Cross (3) for a touchdown during the second half of the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Maryland Terrapins at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. [Maddie Schroeder/Dispatch]

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“Everybody had to be home,” Crowley said.  “I didn’t have the same treatment back home that I would have had here. Up here, I would be doing treatment every day, working on necessities, and back home it was like I had to do everything on my own.”

On a conference call with reporters last week, Crowley said he felt he had improved in multiple areas since his freshman season beyond recovering his quickness. But it was a day before the team’s first practice in pads this spring, so Crowley held off on offering too much of a self-assessment.

“We’re gonna see,” he said.

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Alford felt reason to be bullish on Crowley’s prospects, even as he continues to recover. He has talent and a renewed focus.

“I think he's getting better. He really has done a good job of committing himself to getting stronger, just more girth and strength, so he doesn't get knocked off as easily,” Alford said. “Marcus is a competitive kid, and he’s had a really good offseason. So I’m anxious to see where this continues to go.”

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jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman