While there has been much written and discussed so far this offseason regarding Heisman front-runner Terrell Pryor, game breaking split end DeVier Posey, and the Buckeyes' explosive 4-3 defense, perhaps the deepest position group on the roster, the tailbacks, have been largely overlooked.
In sharp contrast to past years, when the Bucks have rode a single workhorse back (Beanie Wells, Antonio Pittman, Maurice Clarett) to one of their many Big Ten titles, this year’s squad will feature a running back by committee look that has become all the rage at the NFL level.
Both the Saints and Colts used three-back rotations on their way to conference championships last season, and the Buckeyes are hoping to duplicate their success this year.
Expectations are insanely high.
Anything short of at least an appearance in the National Championship Game will be seen as a failure to rabid fans in the Buckeye State.
The backfield will presumably be led by projected starter Brandon Saine, a 6’1”, 217-pound lightning bolt.
Saine became a household name in the Buckeye State after a breakout performance against Oregon in the Rose Bowl last January.
He brings top of the line speed, elusiveness, and explosive play to the position, as well as rock solid hands as a receiver out of the backfield.
Look for Saine to improve upon his 750 rushing yards and solidify his future as an NFL-caliber back this year.
Competing with Saine for carries will be longtime running mate Daniel “Boom” Herron.
Excuse the tired analogy, but the diminutive back from Warren, Ohio composes the thunder portion of Ohio State's thunder and lightning backfield.
Injuries have held Herron back somewhat throughout his career at OSU, but a healthy Boom must be game planned for by opposing defenses.
When healthy, Herron runs like his hair is on fire and the nearest water source is behind a brick wall.
This kid regularly runs straight through defenders nearly twice his size, hence his standing as a fan favorite in Columbus (along with an injury plagued career). His physical, balls to the wall running style evokes Eddie George and Keith Byers, yet he is exponetially smaller than either one of those Buckeye legends.
Look for the Bucks to increasingly incorporate their take on the popular Wildcat formation, lining up Saine and Herron together in the shotgun, even more this season after using the package to repeatedly gash Oregon’s defense for big yardage during the Rose Bowl.
The third tailback spot is where things could get very interesting.
A bevy of relatively unknown players are vying for the spot spelling Saine and Herron, and the success of one of these candidates could make or break the Bucks' offense.
Early reports out of Columbus favor sophomore Jordan Hall stepping into the third back role.
The 5’10” high school teammate of Terrell Pryor has wowed the coaching staff with his elusiveness since stepping foot on campus last year.
This offseason, he has improved his blitz pickup and ball protection to the point where the staff feels more comfortable giving him carries in pressure situations, such as third down, a prime spot for most third backs.
Pushing Hall for time will be red-shirt freshman Jaamal Berry, a former high school All-American that brings SEC-quality speed and elusiveness to the Midwest and will be the first name on the tip of fans' tongues should the running game falter this season.
Rounding out the wild card candidates for carries are seniors Marcus Williams, Joe Gantz, and sophomore Bo Delande, who all could possibly enter the equation should major injury problems strike the Bucks jam-packed backfield.
While the Bucks may lack a top-tier feature back like Pitt’s Dion Lewis or Alabama’s Mark Ingram, the backfield by committee should keep opposing defenses off balance, as well as keeping Saine and Herron fresh and healthy throughout the grind of the Big Ten season.
However, time will only tell whether this convoluted backfield will work, and only a BCS title will mark coach Tressel's grand experiment a resounding success.
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