After a string of injuries put the true depth of the position to the ultimate test a season ago, running backs coach Tony Alford and the Ohio State offense appear set to boast one of the deepest running back rooms in the country in 2023.
TreVeyon Henderson continues to work his way back from a foot injury that severely impacted his effectiveness a year ago, ultimately rendering him unavailable for Ohio State’s final two games against Michigan and Georgia, and Miyan Williams was a participant, albeit in a limited capacity, in spring practices after dealing with various injuries throughout the season that also limited his availability.
In their absences, and with Evan Pryor already lost to a season-ending knee injury before the season began, Alford was forced to turn to true freshman Dallan Hayden and converted linebacker Chip Trayanum to carry the ball in significant moments late in the season.
Although Alford certainly hopes for better fortunes regarding injuries this season, last year’s circumstances have afforded him the luxury of now having at least five running backs who have proven capable of being the lead back at any moment for the Buckeyes.
“The more the merrier, right?” Alford joked on Tuesday about the depth. “It’s like a kid at Christmas — the more presents you have, the better. We needed every bit of depth we could have last year. Hopefully, that doesn’t repeat itself. But it’s always good to have depth, and competition makes everybody rise, so I think it’s a good situation to be in.”
In addition to simply having a deep room of capable bodies, the Ohio State running backs feature different styles that will allow Alford to utilize them in various ways depending on the challenges presented in a given week. “I think everyone has different skillsets and traits that they’re better at than maybe some others, and that’s our job as coaches to put them in the best situations to help the football team,” he said.
Of course, in the transfer portal era, it’s more difficult than ever for coaches to maintain quality depth at a position as a lack of opportunities can always run the risk of players seeking playing time elsewhere. Such challenges are a good problem for any coach to have, however, and each Buckeye running back has continuously said all the right things when fielding the natural questions about the difficulties associated with finding opportunities in a crowded backfield.
Asked about the challenges a coach faces in trying to spread the carries to such a large, talented group, Alford said he’s going to do what’s best for the team, first and foremost. He added that all each player can focus on is continuously improving, noting those improvements come in more ways than simply making plays on the field.
“The challenge for everybody is just to get better every day,” he said. “We talk about how reps matter, but don’t be mistaken, a rep isn’t just because you carry the ball. A rep might mean we’re sitting in the meeting room and we ask a question and you’re up. Did you answer the question correctly? Do you know what’s going on with the mental part of the game? And then when your number is called, did you make a play? Those are all reps … So it is challenging, but it’s a challenge for all the players, too. Everyone looks at being challenged as if it’s a hard thing, but it’s a good thing and a good situation.”
As was on full display last year, if each player ensures he is ready when the time comes, he may not have to wait very long for an opportunity to present itself.
“(Last season) speaks to when you’re recruiting young people and you’re talking to players that your number could be up at any time,” Alford went on to say. “If you asked Dallan Hayden when he came here last June, he probably didn’t think he was going to play very much with the guys who were ahead of him. Lo and behold, there he is playing in critical situations in the game. It’s just a testament to show you have to be prepared at all times and get yourself ready to play and compete every day.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.