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Ohio State Football Fall Camp Preview: Running Backs
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS — The Buckeyes will have one of the best running backs in the nation carrying the ball for them, as well as pass blocking, as well as lead blocking on jet sweeps, as well as lead blocking on quarterback runs, as well as also catching passes in the flats. Oh, and three or four high school All-Americans behind him.

The Players Involved

15 Ezekiel Elliott, Jr.
Elliott is considered by many to be the best running back in the nation and a high first round NFL Draft pick next spring. In other words, he's not bad.

4 Curtis Samuel, So.
Samuel is so good as a running back that the coaching staff didn't even need to see him there in the spring. Like when an actor isn't asked to audition for a role.

25 Bri'onte Dunn, rJr.
Dunn needs to step up or else he risks being passed by other talented running backs. The good news is that he stepped up quite well in the spring and has momentum on his side.

28 Warren Ball, rJr.
Ball has had to deal with nagging injuries in his time, but showed explosion early in his career. He'll need to get back to that in order to get good carries in this lineup.

20 Mike Weber, Fr.
Weber was an Army All-American who has great balance and bounces off of tacklers like a traveling mosh pit. He'll need to show the coaches that they can't not play him this year.

How’d 2014 Go?

You know how when you watch a space shuttle launch and right at blastoff things look like they’re moving very slowly and it takes forever for the boosters to get everything off the ground, but then eventually the thing picks up some pace and it’s six miles away in the time it takes you to reel off a sneeze? That was Ezekiel Elliott last year for the Buckeyes.

He didn’t have his first 100-yard rushing game until the fourth game of the season, and until that point he had rushed for just 141 yards through his first three games. But then he started picking up some speed. And then right around December the final booster sent Elliott right through the hearts of Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, and they had no answer.

There was also some production behind him, but it was muted because of the effectiveness of Elliott and J.T. Barrett.

Outlook for 2015

Pretty, pretty good. Ezekiel Elliott is a Heisman front runner, and deservedly so. He rushed for 1,878 yards last season without much use of his left arm. Fully healthy in 2015, who knows what his future holds, but I bet it involves more yards than your average Columbus subdivision.

Behind him will be sophomore Curtis Samuel, juniors Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn, and true freshman Mike Weber. Depending on which quarterback will be starting for the Buckeyes, the carries of the four players above could fluctuate greatly. There will be more carries available if Cardale Jones is the quarterback because he won’t be taking as many of their carries since he’s not the same kind of running threat as J.T. Barrett or Braxton Miller.

Regardless of the quarterback, however, Samuel will get the ball, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Weber get some opportunities early to see how he responds.

What are we watching for in camp?

We’ll be watching Curtis Samuel to see how often he is in the backfield and how often he is playing H-back. Can somebody step forward at tailback and make Samuel more of a full-time H-back, or will they still need him at running back as much as they expected to in 2014? We’ll also be watching the pecking order. Samuel came in last year as a true freshman and took the No. 2 job pretty quickly. Can Mike Weber pull a freshman repeat?

Bri’onte Dunn earned plenty of praise from Urban Meyer this spring, and he’ll need to continue playing in such a manner to stay in the rotation. Both he and Warren Ball will have a hungry freshman looking to come in and establish himself as a guy who can’t afford to be redshirted.

There could be some good carries up for grabs during camp because they won’t want to beat up Ezekiel Elliott too much before the season. And depending on what ultimately happens with Samuel, it is conceivable that Dunn and Ball and Weber could be competing for some No. 2 snaps once the season begins. That’s going to bring out a tremendous competition.

Pick to surprise?

Does Curtis Samuel still qualify as a surprise, because if so, that’s the pick here. Once fall camp rolls around, you can expect Samuel to be the talk of the town. He came to Ohio State to be an H-back, but he was so good as a running back as a freshman that they had to put him there. Why do we think that he won’t be even better as a running back as a sophomore?

He averaged 6.6 yards per carry last season without the aid of any real home runs. He’s a consistent yard getter, but he’s about to start hitting for some serious power in 2015.

One prediction

Mike Weber will enter camp as the No. 5 tailback, but he won’t stay there for long.
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