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Ohio State 2017 Spring Positional Preview: H-Backs
By Tony Gerdeman
Can the Buckeyes regroup at H-back following the loss of Curtis Samuel?
Photo by Jim Davidson

Last season, Curtis Samuel showed everyone the full potential of the H-back in Ohio State's offense. Had the passing game been better, he could have had a shot at becoming the first FBS player to ever have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. Instead, he "only" ended up with 771 yards rushing and 865 yards receiving. Those numbers are going to be hard to top.

Replacing Samuel likely won't be put upon one player's shoulders, nor should it be. Samuel could do so many things, so in order to replicate his services, the Buckeyes will need to use multiple players. Who those players are, however, isn't totally known at this point. We don't even know which running backs and receivers will be lining up in the slot -- and for our purposes here, if you are in the slot, you're an "H-back". We've got some guesses as to the names you will see, however.

The Players

30 Demario McCall (5-9 182) Sophomore
Played in six games last season...rushed for 270 yards on 49 carries (5.5 avg)...caught four passes for 84 yards...scored four touchdowns total...will he make the standard move from running back to H-back in his second season, as Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel did?...

14 K.J. Hill (6-0 200) Redshirt Sophomore
Played in 11 games last season, missing two with a high ankle sprain...valuable member of the passing game...finished with 18 receptions for 262 yards (14.6 avg) and a touchdown...tough matchup in the slot and strong enough to break tackles...isn't an interior ball carrier, but neither was Philly Brown...could he move outside instead like Jalin Marshall did?...
19 Eric Glover-Williams (5-9 178) Junior
Moved over from safety in the winter...incredibly quick athlete who excelled at running the ball in high school...likely too light to do much inside running for OSU, but is trouble in space...
21 Parris Campbell (6-1 208) Redshirt Junior
Has dabbled here and there at H-back, so he's included here just because of the uncertainty...given his high school history as a tailback, there is some merit here...incredibly fast and getting stronger every year, could provide a matchup problem that he has yet to be able to consistently provide outside...
83 Terry McLaurin (6-0 204) Redshirt Junior
Like Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin has had experience at running back in high school...given his various skills and speed, he could emerge as a sleeper at the spot even though he's mostly spent his years out wide...
NA J.K. Dobbins (5-10 208) Freshman
J.K. Dobbins is being included here so that people won't ask why he wasn't included...while he has the skills to help out at this spot, generally they want freshmen running backs to get acclimated at their natural spot before they think about moving him...I don't know that there will be any reason to move him next year, however...

The Depth Chart

30 Demario McCall OR
14 K.J. Hill OR
21 Parris Campbell OR
83 Terry McLaurin
19 Eric-Glover Williams

The Storyline

Remember 'Predator 2' when Danny Glover took over the franchise from Arnold Schwarzenegger? It just wasn't the same. It was barely one step above having Alf take over the Alien franchise. In this analogy, Curtis Samuel is Schwarzenegger and the guys vying to fill his shoes are trying to avoid being Danny Glover. And it's not that Glover was bad in the movie, but it just wasn't the same. Bruce Willis or Denzel Washington or somebody not so sidekickish would have been better. Can Demario McCall and K.J. Hill or whomever else carry this film and leave people believing the franchise is in good hands? Or will the H-back this spring go the way of the Predator franchise and have to wait for a reboot down the line?

Three Questions

1. Who are the candidates?

2. Will this be a two-man operation, or even more than that?

3. How fluid of a situation will this be throughout the spring?

Best Case Scenario

The best-case scenario for the Buckeyes here would be to find a couple of guys right out of the gate so that they can use the entire spring to get up to speed on the intricacies of the position and any changes that Kevin Wilson may bring with him. My initial thought is still Demario McCall and K.J. Hill providing a dual air and ground attack. It's not exactly "thunder and lightning", and I don't know if it would qualify as "lightning and lightning", but as long as they provide some kind atmospheric changes in Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes will take it.

Worst Case Scenario

Even though we didn't see it the past two years, ideally the Ohio State offense will be at its best when the H-back is able to run inside and outside and run routes short and long, doing all of these things seamlessly. They had that with Curtis Samuel last year, but it wasn't his fault the offense struggled. You can look at the names already mentioned in this preview and see the number of possibilities, but what if each of those guys is only able to excel in one specific area? Say Demario McCall is very good on the ground, but doesn't show the hands the position needs. Or K.J. Hill is great in the slot, but the inside run just isn't an option for him. While it is too much to expect one person to replace Samuel, if everybody replacing him can only do one thing, the offense gets a little bit more predictable based on personnel.

One Good Spring Prediction

Demario McCall is the talk of spring camp.

One Bad Prediction

Tight end Kierre Hawkins will also get some looks in the slot.

One Okay Prediction

There will be at least four different players who get serious looks at the position.

Something to Watch For

How well this transition from Curtis Samuel to Not Curtis Samuel goes may hinge on Demario McCall's ability to run routes and catch passes, which -- as we saw last year -- isn't as easy as some players make it look. If he is seamless, then feel free to get excited because we have only gotten a peek at his abilities to this point. Who knows what he can do with 10 touches a game.

Reason for Optimism

With the way Kevin Wilson is able to create mismatches in the passing game, the H-back could be a very busy and fluid position for the Buckeyes. He has created more productive slot receivers from lesser stock, so just imagine what he can do at Ohio State with more talent all over the field. With K.J. Hill's experience, it would seem like he and Kevin Wilson could find some significant successes down the field. This could also be where guys like Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin find a home as well.

Reason for Pessimism

You don't lose Curtis Samuel and then have him replaced by the end of your 15 spring practices. Samuel was the perfect H-back, so expecting to go back-to-back with perfection is silly. This is going to be a process, and it may not be an easy one. And we don't even know what the depth chart looks like yet, or if it will look the same from the first practice to the last practice. Basically, there are a bunch of unknowns here, but at least the knowns have possibilities.

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