COLUMBUS — Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford says it wouldn’t be fair to the Buckeyes’ two freshman running backs, TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor, to compare them to J.K. Dobbins right now.
But there is at least one way they are similar to Dobbins, who finished his career behind only Archie Griffin in rushing yards at OSU.
Like Dobbins, neither Henderson or Pryor played their senior season of high school football.
The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 high school football season in their home states — Virginia for Henderson and North Carolina for Pryor. Dobbins missed his senior season because of a knee injury.
Master Teague, a junior who rushed for 514 yards while sharing the running back position with Trey Sermon last season, has been labeled the “incumbent” by head coach Ryan Day. While he is in the lead in the first few days of spring practice, challengers could arise with five other running backs, including the two freshmen, trying to earn playing time.
“Of course I want to be that guy. But whatever is going to be best for the team is going to be my role,” Teague said during a Zoom conference on Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of guys.”
Miyan Williams, Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers are also hoping to put themselves into the picture at running back.
“If we played a game tomorrow he (Teague) would start but we have some other really good players here,” Alford said.
“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to win games. If it’s one guy, then it shall be. If it’s not, then that’s fine. I think right now the biggest thing for us is to continue to grow as a football team, continue to grow as a unit and continue to grow as individual players. If that means they emerge and kind of separate from the pack, then that shall happen.
“We’ve only been practicing for two days. These young guys are explosive football players. They’ve got some twitch and some burst in them. We’ll just continue to work with them and see where this thing goes,” he said.
Henderson is a 5-star recruit who was ranked the No. 1 running back nationally in the 2021 recruiting class. Pryor was a 4-star recruit.
Henderson signed with Ohio State without ever setting foot on its campus. He hadn’t seen it before enrolling in January.
“The coaches are what I expected and Ohio State is what I expected,” he said on Tuesday. He said he was looking forward to the first day of contact in practice today after being away from it last year.
“We put the pads on Wednesday. All I need is that one good hit to wake me up and I’ll be good. I’m a big competitor. I don’t back down from anything. When the pads come on that lets you know who’s real and who’s not.”
Alford laughed when he was told about Henderson wanting to take a hit in practice.
“Don’t worry, buddy. It’s coming. It will be upon you here soon,” he said.
Alford called the two freshmen “very coachable kids” and said, “When you correct them, they don’t take it personally, it’s not a personal attack. They’re hungry to learn. I’m thrilled with the development they’ve shown so far but they’ve got to get better.”
Sermon rushed for 870 yards on 116 carries last season and Teague had 104 carries. The next-highest total was 10 carries by Williams. So, obviously, at least half or more of the six running backs could end up being frustrated.
Alford said when decisions are made about who will get the bulk of the carries this season he will have honest conversations with the players who aren’t getting them.
“Sometimes honest conversations are hard conversations. But at the same time they’re needed. When it comes time to have those conversations then we’ll have them. Right now, it’s not time. When it’s time to have those we will. We’ll have those conversations when they need to be had,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.