After the injury to then-senior running back Jordan Hall before the 2012 season, Ohio State was in crisis mode.
The assumed starting H-back, a hybrid wide receiver running back player in coach Urban Meyer’s offense, was out and no one knew who was going to step up and take over.
Fast forward one year, and OSU has turned that problem around in a big way.
Now, instead of waiting for an unknown player to step up, the Buckeyes have H-back players to spare.
Hall, who started at running back against Buffalo, said Meyer understands he has a multitude of choices and that could hinder a defense’s ability to get ready for the OSU squad.
“I was going to play a different position,” Hall said. “Coach Meyer knows that he has a bunch of people that can play running back or H position, so I think it’s just going to be harder for a defense to prepare for that.”
Hall, senior wide receiver Chris Fields, freshman wide receiver Jalin Marshall and freshmen running backs Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott have all been touted as potential H-backs for OSU by Meyer.
Fields started at H-back against Buffalo and Meyer said he earned the right to start by showing a significant improvement from last season.
“(He’s) one of the most improved players on our team. He’s involved in special teams. But we kind of have a rule around here that you can’t play unless you’re involved in special teams and he’s really done a nice job,” Meyer said.
Fields had three catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns in the opener, compared to four catches for 55 yards and a touchdown total in 2012.
Redshirt-senior quarterback Kenny Guiton, who threw Fields one of his touchdowns, lives with the wide receiver and has seen his growth as a player since he arrived on campus.
“There’s something up with me and him (Fields). That’s my roommate, and that’s a guy I came in with. Since day one we’ve been clicking. Throwing touchdowns (to) him is fun man, it’s cool,” Guiton said.
Meyer said Fields’ improvement has come mostly from his work ethic in practice.
“Chris Fields wasn’t in the Top 50 for playing a game last year, and he’s really the same talent,” Meyer said. “He’s just playing his tail off and doing a lot of things for us, and he’s doing it all right, too.”
Named a starter at wide receiver during spring practice, Fields wanted to make sure he didn’t lose that position to a younger player.
“My mindset was ‘since I’m up there, I want to stay up there’ and have a mentality every day that I was going to get better, I wasn’t going to let anybody take my spot,” Fields said.
Fields said he really changed how he went about things when Meyer told him he could be a starter.
“Had a change of how I live my life and how I focus on things,” Fields said. “When he said I’d be able to be a starter this year, (I decided) I’m taking full advantage of it.”
The other player who received significant playing time as the H-back in week one was Wilson, who averaged more than seven yards a touch on offense but also fumbled midway through the second quarter.
Meyer said Monday that Wilson has some explosiveness that can help the offense, but he needs to be careful with the ball or he may lose playing time.
“Dontre was good, other than I think he laid on the ground. That was terrible and he won’t play much if that happens again,” Meyer said. “I did think he showed some of the explosiveness that he has. We would like to get No. 15 (Elliott) a couple more carries.”
A lot of focus was given to Wilson during camp because of his speed, and that showed on his kickoff return for 51 yards that set up a rushing touchdown for Hall.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton said Monday Wilson only has one gear — fast.
“I’ve never seen him slow down. No, everything is a hundred miles an hour,” Drayton said.
Elliott only recorded one carry for two yards, but Drayton thought he and Wilson impressed against Buffalo.
“Both of those two kids passed the test. Got to find a way to get them more involved,” Drayton said. “But we are extremely excited about the God-given talent that they present to this offense, there’s no doubt about that.”
The Buckeyes have Fields starting at H-back against San Diego State with Wilson and Marshall behind him on the depth chart.
OSU (1-0) will take on San Diego State (0-1) at 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium Saturday.