J.K. Dobbins burst onto the national scene as a true freshman in 2017, asserting himself as a premier back from his very first game in a Buckeye uniform. Dobbins carried the ball nearly 30 times in that game, a season-opening win over Indiana, and rushed for 181 yards in the absence of injured Mike Weber.
With Weber being limited for much of the season with a hamstring injury, Dobbins excelled as the lead back, amassing 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in his first campaign.
Dobbins entered last season with plenty of hype following that freshman campaign. But between splitting carries with a healthy Weber, and the offensive focus shifting to the vertical passing game, Dobbins turned in a sophomore season he felt was “disappointing” by his own admission, and he even goes as far as calling it a failure, despite still rushing for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But with Weber now in camp with the Dallas Cowboys after being selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft this spring, Dobbins is again in line to be the featured back for the Buckeyes, and he expects to take a significant jump forward as with the added attempts.
“There were benefits to sharing carries,” Dobbins said following the Aug. 2 opening practice of preseason camp. “But knowing that I’ll get more carries than my first two years is a good feeling, because I know I’ll be able to get into a rhythm and stuff like that. That helps a lot.”
Asked about the potential downside to not sharing as many carries this year, Dobbins said perhaps he won’t be as fresh by the end of the year.
Dobbins will enter the 2019 season with no shortage of motivation, feeling he still has much to prove as he chases his ultimate goal of winning a national title.
“I just feel like I’m the best running back in the nation, and I want to prove that,” he said. “I didn’t last year, and I have a chip on my shoulder because I know I can do better.”
Dobbins will get ample opportunities to “do better” as he receives the bulk of the carries and figures to seldom leave the field. But he has prepared himself throughout the offseason to handle the increased workload, beginning a diet shortly after the end of the 2018 season that resulted in a 4% body fat loss that will help him handle the increased role.
Most importantly, he welcomes and relishes the idea of becoming a workhorse back for the Buckeyes.
“I want to have that responsibility of the team leaning on me in times of need,” he said.
Following the Aug. 2 opening practice, head coach Ryan Day said Dobbins needs to turn 3-yard runs into 5-yard runs and 4-yard runs into 6-yard runs, adding, “before you know it, you start leaning on teams, you can come out the back end (of the play) and the home runs will hit naturally.”
Day went on to say the running backs behind Dobbins, none of which have emerged as the clear backup, need to pick up the slack for him as well.
“He’s not going to be able to do it all himself,” Day said. “It’s a long season, we play pretty fast, so we’re going to have a lot of snaps every year … they don’t have a choice, one of those guys has to step up.”
Master Teague figures to be the primary backup to Dobbins, but Teague carried the ball just 17 times last season before redshirting and has not practiced in camp due to an undisclosed injury.
With Teague’s absence, redshirt junior Demario McCall and true freshmen Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers have had the opportunity to assert themselves behind Dobbins.
McCall is still searching for a defined role within the offense, having been used sparingly and mostly in the passing game thus far. When Day was asked about McCall’s usage following the Aug. 6 practice, he said the primary focus has been on getting McCall to step up as a legitimate backup running back, something Day said they do not have at the moment.
Crowley had his black stripe removed from his helmet on Monday, a sign that the coaching staff is pleased with how he is practicing and carrying himself. Both he and Chambers bring plenty of speed to the backfield.
“We’ve recruited well. Those guys are very talented. They’re good kids,” Day said of the guys vying for carries. “Somebody will step up.”
Following Saturday’s scrimmage, Day said the opportunity was there for one of them to step forward and win the job during the scrimmage but did not do so.
“We’re still looking for that guy,” Day said. “Master hasn’t been practicing, so it’s hard for him to win it. But Demario, Marcus, and Steele are in the battle for it right now and that battle continues.”