When Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes were not producing as expected offensively against inferior opponents in 2015, fans began to raise eyebrows. Now with 2016 on the horizon, fans again don’t know what to expect from a youthful, but skilled, offense to be led by redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett.
OSU lost its three most significant play makers to the NFL from last season in Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller. And that’s not including dynamic H-back Jalin Marshall who was signed by the New York Jets.
Meyer said last week at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago that redshirt freshman Mike Weber would be the starting running back heading into fall camp which begins on Aug. 6.
Weber started at running back for the Scarlet team during the spring game in April. He impressed the crowd and staff by carrying the ball eight times for 38 yards with two touchdowns.
“His issue is he has to stay healthy. I love where he’s at as far as what kind of physical condition he’s in,” Meyer said. “ I anticipate he’ll be the starting tailback, but that’s why we have training camp.”
Weber was a four-star recruit out of Case Tech high school in Detroit and was believed to have a chance at playing time his first year on campus. Prior to the start of the 2015 season, Weber tore his meniscus in camp which forced him to take a medical redshirt. Now with the starting running back job up for his taking, Weber is doing what he can to seize the opportunity.
“Every freshman kind of comes in with that immaturity. Mike, he’s just taking kind of initiative on things (now),” said team captain and redshirt senior Pat Elflein. “It was unfortunate last year when he got hurt and had Zeke in front of him and now it’s his time to shine. He’s grown up a lot this summer.”
Elflein and Barrett often are partnered with Weber during workouts. Barrett said that Weber has become unselfish and he’s treating his body the right way in the offseason.
“He’s an explosive back that we have. He cares a lot about his teammates, I feel like,” Barrett said. “ I workout with him quite a bit and just try to make sure he understands that the work you put in in the offseason is where you win the game.”
Behind Weber on the depth chart is where the water become a bit murky. Freshmen Antonio Williams and Demario McCall are the only other scholarship running backs listed on the roster. Both of them have yet to play a down for the Scarlet and Gray.
Junior H-back Curtis Samuel could see his role vary throughout the season given his ability to run downhill with exceptional speed. Samuel played primarily out of the backfield last season giving Elliott a breather on the sidelines when he needed one, and he also lined up in the slot from time to time.
Samuel had 22 receptions for 289 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score and 132 yards on 17 carries in 2015. It seems like his production could take another leap in 2016.
Meyer said that 10-15 touches would be a good number for Samuel per game.
“Curtis Samuel needs to get the ball. It doesn’t matter how he gets it,” Barrett said. “He’s one of the most dynamic players on the team when he gets the ball in his hands.”
Samuel is one of only three skill-position players who have game experience that are returning in 2016. He had foot surgery in the offseason, so Meyer said that he will be watching very closely the contact Samuel takes in camp.
Another player coming back from injury is redshirt sophomore Noah Brown. He broke his leg in fall camp just a week prior to the team’s opener at Virginia Tech. Meyer said that he would have been a starter last season and that he will be a starter on Sept. 3 against Bowling Green.
Last season, quarterbacks Cardale Jones and the aforementioned Barrett had familiar options at the receiver position. Thomas, Marshall and Miller are all starting their professional careers which means Barrett must find a new favorite target. He said Brown is his guy heading into fall camp.
“He’s got suction cups to his hands,” Barrett said about the New Jersey native. “I have a little more trust (in Brown). I can throw it up when he’s covered.”
OSU notably struggled finding a deep threat in the passing game last year after the departure of Devin Smith in 2014. The Buckeyes converted just 40.7 percent of their third downs in 2015 compared to 52 percent in their championship season. Along with Samuel, sixth-year senior Corey Smith and senior Dontre Wilson, Brown will have to step into a new role and could see a number of crucial targets in his first season of significant action.
“We got playmakers all around,” Elflein said. “We’ll get the ball in their hands and let them run.”