As camp progressed for the 2019 Ohio State Buckeyes, the backup running back position remained a point of uncertainty. Demario McCall, Steele Chambers, and Marcus Crowley battled for carries throughout, with Master Teague missing most of camp with an undisclosed injury, but neither of the four had been able to solidify themselves behind returning starter J.K. Dobbins.
However, following Wednesday’s media session in which running backs coach Tony Alford spoke, it would appear the two-deep roster at the position has gained some clarity.
“Demario,” Alford said bluntly when asked about the backup position.
Asked what has changed with McCall, Alford said he is bigger, which allows him to run with more physicality, and he is showing both leadership skills and the ability to make plays.
McCall has been used in a variety of ways, albeit sparingly, throughout his three seasons at Ohio State. Injuries have played a significant part in his lack of playing time, and Alford said he is looking for McCall to put everything together consistently this season.
“I want to see him make plays for our football team on a consistent basis,” Alford said. “I want him to be the best player he can be. I want him to continue to try to be a leader as an elder statesman in the locker room and in our (position) room and just compete at a high level every day. Thus far in camp, he’s done that.”
Alford said he began to see McCall as the guy to spell Dobbins “probably about a week ago, that I finally said this is the guy I would turn to. Because he’s done a nice job. It’s been a long camp, but he’s done a nice job for us.”
He said he believes McCall being able to focus solely on being a running back and not moving around to different positions has helped him to grow into the role.
McCall said he dealt with a calf injury in the spring but is now fully healthy and feels like himself for the first time in a while. He said he is now up 196 pounds and feels faster and stronger.
“The way our offense is set up, with me just being an athlete, I can be all over the place,” McCall said. “It’ll be interesting (to see) how they use me … wherever they put me, I’m just going to do it to the best of my ability and go to work.”
Alford said he could sense “a lot” of frustration from McCall in recent years due to injuries hold him back, but he said McCall has been “much more intentional as far as taking care of his body.”
While he has the versatility to be used in the slot and more, McCall said he has only worked with the running backs in camp.
His athleticism has never been in question, and as he now plays at the highest weight of his career, the explosiveness he has flashed over the past three years should only increase. But now primarily as a running back, McCall said his biggest focus in getting better has been as a pass blocker, something he acknowledged is taken very seriously at Ohio State.
Healthy and zeroed in on a single position, McCall said he isn’t feeling any pressure to perform but does feel like it’s now or never for him to make his mark on the program.
”I feel like now is the time and I’m finally getting to show that now is the time,” McCall said. “I want to show them the Demario McCall that they know, that they’ve been seeing, the little flashes. I want to show them consistency now.”
Alford went on to say Crowley would be the third back as of right now, although “Steele (Chambers) is right there, too.”
He said Dobbins and McCall have done well in leading Chambers and Crowley, who are both true freshmen and going through their first preseason camp.
“Every single day during training camp was new for Steele Chambers,” Alford said. “Every day is a new day, it’s an eye-opening experience for him, because he’s never done it … and even for Marcus (Crowley), he’s never been through a college training camp.”
Teague, who Alford called the fastest back of the unit, returned to the practice field just as camp wrapped up. The expectation is for him to return to full health soon, which could again blur the backup running back picture depending on McCall’s performance behind Dobbins early on.