Could a feature running back emerge for Ohio State football in 2021?
Buckeye Camp Questions
Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of stories looking at the 10 most pressing questions facing Ohio State football as it prepares for the 2021 season.
Part 1: The quarterbacks
Today, Part 2: Is there a potential feature running back on the roster?
When Ohio State last broke in a new starting quarterback, it had a seasoned running back.
J.K. Dobbins played alongside Justin Fields in the backfield in 2019 and became just the second OSU running back in a decade to average 20 or more carries per game.
Could anyone on this season’s roster take on a similar workload and ease the burden on Kyle McCord, Jack Miller or C.J. Stroud, whichever of the three freshmen emerges as the Buckeyes’ signal caller?
It’s a question that begins with TreVeyon Henderson and Master Teague III. Both project to be at the top of a crowded depth chart.
Henderson is a flashy freshman, the first five-star running back recruit to sign with Ohio State since Chris “Beanie” Wells in 2006.
As a junior at Hopewell High School in Virginia two years ago, Henderson rushed for 2,424 yards and 45 touchdowns, an eye-popping stat line that cemented his status as a premier prospect. He did not play as a senior last fall as the state’s high school season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Recruiting analysts took notice of Henderson’s elusiveness and his speed, which was also apparent on the track. He ran the 100-meter dash in as fast as 10.94 seconds as a sophomore.
Teague, who enters his fourth season with the Buckeyes, is the most tenured back. He has logged 256 rush attempts over his career and began last fall as the starter before an injury setback cleared the way for Trey Sermon’s late breakout stretch in the postseason.
Along with experience, Teague offers a more bruising running style. He was an effective complement to Dobbins in 2019 when he was voted as an All-Big Ten third-team selection by the league’s coaches and media members.
Henderson and Teague
If either is to emerge as the feature back for the Buckeyes, a couple of factors could settle things.
Foremost, the uber-talented Henderson will need to acclimate, a challenge that is no small feat. Maurice Clarett and Dobbins are the only true freshmen running backs to start a season opener for the Buckeyes, evidence of the learning curve.
Henderson has put himself in a position for a fast start. He enrolled a semester early in January in order to participate in spring practice, putting him firmly in the mix in the backfield.
Late in spring practice in April, coach Ryan Day remarked that Henderson had “done everything right so far.”
“He needs a million reps,” Day added, “but the talent is there, the work ethic is there.”
If Teague holds off Henderson, it might be due to his own upside. His debut as a starter came only seven months following an injury to his Achilles tendon.
It’s worth considering the possibility that Teague could be in better rushing form after going through a healthy offseason.
But the Buckeyes might ultimately tilt toward a running-back-by-committee approach as they have done in several recent seasons.
Not only do the skill sets of Henderson and Teague seem like natural accompaniments, but there are further candidates to see carries with four other running backs currently on scholarship. (Note: Steele Chambers is listed as a running back on the roster, but speculation has continued over a position switch to linebacker).
In his freshman season, Miyan Williams stood out on a handful of runs due to his shiftiness. In the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Clemson, he picked up 21 rushing yards on three carries.
Evan Pryor also arrived on campus this offseason with a decorated high school pedigree. While Henderson was the top-ranked back in the 2020 recruiting class, Pryor was considered to be the sixth-best prospect at the position by 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Unless Henderson or Teague establishes clear separation over the others in the running back room, it’ll be difficult for the Buckeyes not to widely distribute carries.
Too many options remain.
Next: Who will emerge as the top receivers behind Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson?