On Monday afternoon, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde was named as a person of interest in the investigation of an assault against a female. He has been suspended indefinitely from the team pending the inquiry, and it's possible that he could miss a significant part of the season.
Despite what ESPN's Paul Finebaum might have you believe, this is the first and biggest offseason development for any national title contender. Hyde was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List this preseason, a reward for his 970-yard, 16-touchdown rushing performance in 2012. And now he won't be able to play.
That's a big deal.
From a personnel standpoint, though, Ohio State seems able to manage this loss. Running back is one of its deepest positions, and head coach Urban Meyer has never relied on one ball-carrier to shoulder much of his offense's load—he's famously never coached a 1,000-yard rusher in his career.
Still, losing a potential All-American is a blow to even the deepest team. And Ohio State is no different. The Buckeyes now need players to step up in multiple, previously less-important ways.
Here's a look at three of them:
RB/WR Jordan Hall
Hall is a fifth-year senior and the returning team captain, so his job, first and foremost, is to step up as a leader. If there is any sort of crisis of faith or elephant in the room at fall camp, he needs to quash it immediately. That's what good captains do.
But Hall also needs to step up between the lines. He ran for 218 yards in three games last season (a year where he was awarded a medical redshirt) and 405 yards as a true junior the year before that. With Hyde out of the lineup, he immediately becomes the most experienced rusher the Buckeyes have.
Still, it's not likely Hall sees primary duty in the backfield. That job should belong to Rod Smith. He will be counted on to carry the ball on occasion, but his main contribution—especially sans Hyde—will come at his new position, the Pivot.
Blessed with the innate ability to make people miss, Hall always intrigued Urban Meyer as a candidate to play Pivot—the position made famous by Percy Harvin under Meyer at Florida. Hall has the speed to run vertical routes, which he'll do from time to time, but the position calls for more underneath and crossing stuff. He will be used like an extension of the running game; the playbook will rely on getting him into space.
"I really don't know [what to expect at H-back]," Hall said to ESPN this spring. "I just know catching passes, Coach Meyer told me motioning to the backfield, options, screens, different things like that."
Which all makes it seem like Hall will be integral in replacing Hyde's production. Not necessarily in the same, bruising, downhill manner Hyde would have done it, but in his own unique way.
If Hyde isn't around to plow for five yards on 2nd-and-4, Meyer needs a new short-yardage option. Hall doesn't have the size to necessarily rush for it, but if he gets into space on the edge or finds himself open over the middle, that could be just as effective.
Without Hyde, he'll need to become an expert—better than just "good enough"—at his new position during fall camp. He'll need to know the playbook like the back of his hand at multiple positions, poised to gain a first down from multiple sets and distances.
In short, his learning curve just got a lot steeper.
RB Rod Smith
Smith is listed behind Hyde on the depth chart, so the job is ostensibly his—at least until we hear otherwise. There's a chance (and a rather good one) that guys like Hall and Bri'onte Dunn cut into his workload, but Smith will be the primary option.
If he plays like he did in spot duty last year, that shouldn't be a problem. Smith gained 270 yards on 34 touches (32 carries, two receptions) in 2012, good for an average of 7.9 yards per touch. Those stats were amassed in a small sample size—and without the rigor of punishing first-quarter hits through the A-gap—but remain impressive nonetheless.
In fall camp, Smith will need to step up and show that he's a legitimate lead back—not just some big-play gimmick who's best served with five to 10 touches per game. He certainly has the size (6'3'', 238 pounds) to shoulder that kind of load, but now he needs to show it in live action.
In 2011, Smith was the No. 2 running back on 247Sports' composite. The only man ranked ahead of him, Michael Dyer, has already played and excelled in a BCS National Championship.
If Hyde stays suspended and Smith realizes his potential, the latter stands a good chance of following suit.
QB Braxton Miller
It seems ludicrous to think about, but in the wake of Hyde's suspension, even more offensive burden will be placed on Miller's shoulders.
He proved he could handle such responsibility in 2012, leading the team to a 12-0 record, finishing with 3,310 total yards and 28 total touchdowns. But at times he was slightly inefficient, and with Hyde out of the lineup, that will no longer be acceptable.
Those quick, over-the-middle or get-out-in-space routes from Jordan Hall require great precision from the quarterback. They require a firm, confident, accurate arm that can get the ball out quickly and put it exactly where it needs to be.
Miller has done that in doses but never consistently. Especially on the "get the ball out quickly" front. He took 27 sacks on just 281 pass attempts last season, a stat the Football Outsiders Almanac called "far too many...to be [considered] an elite quarterback."
Without Hyde in the lineup, Miller's margin for error shrinks considerably. He will drop back for more than 281 pass attempts, and every dumb sack he takes will be amplified.
Where they might have run the ball on 2nd-and-5 last season, the Buckeyes might call a quick pass in 2013. If Miller takes a sack, that turns a should-have-been-manageable third down into 3rd-and-long. And that's bad quarterbacking any way you slice it.
The big plays will always be there for Miller, and just like last year, they will often be enough to cover up his mistakes. But there's bound to be two or three games where that big-play well runs dry, and Miller will need to win the game with adept, cerebral passing.
His throwing form in fall camp will be paramount.
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