When Curtis Samuel declared a year early for the NFL draft after the 2016 season, many thought the immediate replacement at H-back would be sophomore Demario McCall.
But for now, McCall is one of three players in the mix at running back.
“I actually haven’t got any reps at H-back this spring,” McCall said after Thursday’s practice. “I’m fully working with the tailbacks because we’re running a little short. But we moved some guys to H to get more depth, so we get going.”
McCall played sparingly in 2016, only seeing the field when the outcome was well out of reach. He had double-digit touches in wins over Rutgers (10), Nebraska (16) and Maryland (13) and accumulated 265 rushing yards on 49 carries (5.4 yards per carry). McCall also caught four passes out of the backfield for 84 yards.
McCall, a former four-star recruit from North Ridgeville, Ohio, scored four times in his freshman season — two against Bowling Green in the season opener, showing explosiveness that makes him arguably the fastest player on OSU’s roster.
McCall said he was a little surprised when he learned that he wouldn’t be taking reps at H-back, but working strictly with coach Tony Alford and the running backs is a step in his development as a more versatile player.
After the season and before spring camp, McCall said he sat down with Alford to discuss what the coaching staff had envisioned for him.
“In spring camp, he want me to get the running back stuff down first, then probably summer camp, they’re going to throw me in the slot, catch little swing-pass routes and just go from there,” he said.
McCall came into OSU at about 170 pounds and is now up to around 190, 192 pounds, Alford said. It didn’t take long last season to notice McCall’s athleticism. A player with his speed is difficult to keep off the field, which made some wonder why McCall did not receive more playing time in 2016.
“I don’t think he was prepared to play any long stretches last year because I just don’t think his strength levels would have allowed that,” Alford said. “Now, I think we’re getting to that point. That’s what the spring is for to continuing to improve.”
As the position stands right now, OSU coach Urban Meyer said on Tuesday that freshman JK Dobbins is the No. 2 behind redshirt sophomore starter Mike Weber. Alford said the battle for the No. 2 spot between Dobbins and McCall is “extremely tight.”
“JK is probably a little more power, but he’s a bigger guy,” he said. “JK is 208, 210 pounds, give or take, so he’s got some weight on Demario that way, but it’s tight. But that’s good. You don’t want these big discrepancies, ‘cause then you got some problems when things fall off so hopefully (we) get to the point where you can throw anybody in the game and not miss a beat.”
Meyer also said that redshirt junior wide receiver Parris Campbell is the starter at H-back currently. Last year, Samuel had already developed the skill set at running back that made the staff comfortable enough to put him at the H. McCall — who said he doesn’t know what position he’ll play in the fall — could be in phase one of that same path Samuel took.
“To be honest, just be ready when your number is called,” McCall said. “(We) call it competitive excellence, so whenever they tell me to go out there in the slot. I’m going to go out in the slot and do what I do.”