How much they actually play remains to be seen, but freshmen running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor have already made a positive impact on the 2021 Ohio State football team.
“I think they’ve definitely helped elevate the room, brought some new energy, some new juice if you will,” Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford said. “And, you know, they’re young guys so they’re trying to impress so they go extremely hard when they’re doing things and they’re very intentional.”
That is perhaps even more meaningful considering what Alford had to work with even before they arrived.
Master Teague, a fourth-year junior from Tennessee, has played in 27 games and rushed for 1,409 yards on 256 carries with 13 touchdowns.
Sophomore Marcus Crowley, who hopes to be 100 percent this season almost two years removed from a serious knee injury, has 251 career rushing yards (8.1 per carry) while redshirt freshman Miyan Williams averaged 6.4 yards per carry on his 10 tries last season.
Alford also would have a fourth option in Steele Chambers, but the former four-star recruit moved to linebacker this month when it became apparent how crowded the running backs room is.
Some thoughts from Kevin Wilson on developing this version of the Ohio State offense and how changes in the rules have caused a major shift in what preseason camp is about https://t.co/tSuunNNFQW
Now having added Henderson and Pryor, how will it all come together?
With about two weeks to go until the seasonopener at Minnesota, Alford wouldn’t say.
“You guys ask me every year, probably five or six times a year: Is it going to be by committee? We don’t know yet,” Alford said. “I say the same thing every time: Whatever it takes to win games. That’s what we’re gonna do. We’re not into making guys happy. This isn’t a happy camp. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win football games. We haven’t solidified exactly how that’s going to go yet as far as rep counts. That will play itself out.”
The coach feels good about the all-around ability of four of the five backs. Pryor was lagging behind in his development, but Alford is encouraged by progress he has shown over the past week.
So if everyone can do everything, Alford will make his choice based on who does the most special things.
“You have to continually make plays,” the coach said. “Continue to show the staff and the football team you can be trusted. We talk about competitive excellence: When you’re called upon, you have to deliver.”
Teague has the most experience, but the others may bring more upside.
A productive backup to J.K. Dobbins two years ago, he was the No. 1 back last season until being overtaken by Trey Sermon late in the campaign.
Teague’s career yards per carry average is 5.5, but he largely came up empty in postseason games each of the last two seasons when Dobbins and Sermon were hurt.
“I missed some cuts this past year,” Teague said, “so I have to make sure my eyes are in the right place and reading the defensive line right. I have a better sense of the field, the whole field, and I think that’s gonna help me.”
Meanwhile, Williams busted off a highlight-reel run in the rematch against Clemson last season and has appeared to be in the front of the line for most things the running backs have done during parts of practice open to reporters in August.
“It’s cool, but I don’t really try to worry about that too much,” said the 5-8, 225-pounder from Cincinnati. “I’m just trying to make my teammates better.”
He is the shortest of the backs and was the lowest-rated recruit, but Williams has impressed his coach with the way he goes about his business.
“He prepares like a pro. He doesn’t get flustered. He’s never too high, never too low. Good or bad. That will happen,” Alford said of Williams. “He’s an even-tiered guy, brings good energy every day. And he’s very serious about this game. He doesn’t make many mistakes.”
Then there’s Henderson.
The nation’s No. 1 running back recruit could be too good to keep off the field even if Alford already has a pair and a spare to rely on.
“Hopefully I get to make an immediate impact,” Henderson said. “That’s all I’m hoping for, for real.”