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Football: How will Ohio State rotate running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber?

OSU freshman running back J.K. Dobbins (2) runs a play during the 2017 season opener vs Indiana. OSU won 49-21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Ohio State running back Mike Weber was fully equipped, taped up and ready to play against Indiana in Week 1 if necessary. After the Buckeyes’ 49-21 victory, coach Urban Meyer said last year’s starter could’ve played, but was feeling “80 percent” and was “on call.”

Once freshman J.K. Dobbins began taking handoffs, it became clear Weber, who had been dealing with a hamstring injury since the beginning of fall camp, wouldn’t be needed.

Dobbins sliced through an Indiana defense that held Ohio State to just 13 first-half points, taking 29 carries for 182 yards. His rushing yardage total is the most of any freshman making his debut for the Buckeyes, and more than Weber rushed in any game last season.

At Monday afternoon’s press conference, Meyer said Weber had a good practice, went full speed and will play against the Sooners Saturday night. Given the ascendance of Dobbins, Meyer and co-offensive coordinators Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day must determine how to split snaps and touches in future games.

Ohio State redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber (left) speaks with running backs coach Tony Alford (right) prior to the Buckeyes’ season-opening 49-21 win over Indiana on Aug. 31 in Bloomington, Indiana. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor

Meyer also said Monday he hadn’t determined how the tandem will rotate in Saturday night’s game against Oklahoma and reiterated the uncertainty the next day.

“They’ll both certainly play and I think they’re good complements to each other,” Meyer said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference Tuesday afternoon. “Kind of remains to be seen on how we use it. But they’ll both play.”

One possibility is that both Dobbins and Weber, who was just the third freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yard in school history, could share the field at the same time.

“It just gives us a lot of options,” redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “Whether it be triple-option or things we have going on, all three of us having the threat to run, or having them getting out of the backfield and having them in routes as well. I think that it just opens a lot of things up for us offensively.”

Regardless of how they rotate or whether they’re on the field at the same time, Dobbins’ and Weber’s teammates are acutely aware of how different they are and how that might allow them to complement each other.

“[Dobbins is] kind of one of those guys who can get into those creases and be able to kind of just flip things and roll,” redshirt senior center Billy Price said. “Mike kind of is that bruiser. He is that guy that’s able to kind of get in there and if he needs a couple extra yards.”

Barrett agreed with Price and mentioned Dobbins could benefit from Weber’s return because it will allow him to rest.

Besides, having too much talent in the backfield is a problem most coaches would welcome. In running back coach Tony Alford’s performance self-review of the 2016 season, he wrote that Ohio State needed more production from its backup running backs. With Dobbins and a healthy Weber, that doesn’t seem to be a dire issue this year.

Ohio State freshman running back J.K. Dobbins runs out of the tunnel prior to the Buckeyes’ season-opening 49-21 win over Indiana on Aug. 31 in Bloomington, Indiana. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor

And don’t be surprised if a couple other backs earn carries against Oklahoma.

Against Indiana, sophomore Antonio Williams carried the ball seven times for 44 yards, finding the end zone twice. He played a similar role, albeit in a lesser capacity, to what Weber might play against Oklahoma. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound Williams had just six carries in 2016, and if Weber doesn’t feel fully healthy, Williams might be called into action in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

Demario McCall was also listed as a running back on the first two depth charts of the season, though he said in August he was primarily working with the H-backs. Last year, as a freshman, McCall took 49 rushing attempts for 273 yards, showcasing his athleticism and explosiveness. However, on his call-in show on 97.1 last Wednesday, Meyer said he was still recovering from a sports hernia he suffered in the spring.

Considering Ohio State’s seemingly never-ending search for a playmaker and its continued transition to the new coordinators’ style of offense, expect the Buckeyes to test different packages utilizing multiple running backs to confuse Oklahoma’s defense.

Ohio State and the Sooners kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

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