How much Ohio State was going to rely on Bri’onte Dunn this fall was an open question heading into preseason camp, but his dismissal unquestionably leaves the Buckeyes short-handed at running back.
Mike Weber, a four-star redshirt freshman from Detroit who likely would have played some last season if not for a preseason injury, is in line to be the starter. That seemed likely even if Dunn were still on the team, but now the only other scholarship player who is a full-time running back on the roster is true freshman Antonio Williams.
Weber made his public debut in scarlet and gray in the spring game and showed off some of the burst and surprising power that has had the coaching staff raving about him since he arrived. Williams also looked like a steady inside runner, but how much load the duo is ready to carry remains to be seen.
Head coach Urban Meyer could ship junior “H” (slot back/receiver) Curtis Samuel back to the backfield to provide more options for running backs coach Tony Alford, too.
Samuel was slowed by injury at times last season, too, but logged more carries and yards than Dunn did last season as Big Ten Running Back of the Year Ezekiel Elliott handled much of the workload.
That marked the continuation of a trend that started with Meyer’s arrival in Columbus. He has had a bell-cow back in all four seasons, first getting 393 carries and 2,491 yards out of Carlos Hyde in 2012 and ’13 then riding Elliott to 562 carries and 3,699 yards the last two seasons.
Samuel has carried 75 times for 515 yards and seven touchdowns in his career while Dunn leaves Columbus with 291 yards on 49 carries.
If none of the players on his current roster fit the mold to be used as Hyde and Elliott were, Meyer has plenty of reference what to do. His offense was well-known for spreading the wealth at his previous stops as a head coach (Bowling Green, Utah and Florida). In fact, then-Michigan head coach Brady Hoke used the fact Meyer had never had a 1,000-yard running back as a head coach to try to sway Dunn to sign with the Wolverines five years ago. Dunn, a five-star recruit from Canton (Ohio) GlenOak, ultimately chose to stick with a commitment to Ohio State rather than see what he could do in Hoke’s pro-style offense.
Since then, the narrative has changed significantly, but it could be time for Meyer to take his spread-option back to its roots for an Ohio State team that will be very young this fall but also doesn’t figure to lack talent.
If Samuel plays more of a traditional tailback role, there remain plenty of options at the H position. Senior Dontre Wilson is due back after an injury-marred 2015, and Meyer signed four-star recruit Demario McCall out of North Ridgeville in February. There are also 10 more players who were four-star recruits vying for time at the outside receiver positions, and several of them could be candidates for snaps in the slot.