Tony Alford has given J.K. Dobbins a clear mission for 2019: Play like a freshman.
Not just any freshman, of course.
The Ohio State running backs coach wants to see Dobbins return to his form of 2017.
“I thought that when J.K. got here he was so hungry and wanted to take every single rep,” Alford said. “If you said run 100 yards and sprint back and do it again and do it a third time, he’d do it, and then he had a little bit of success.”
Dobbins burst onto the scene in 2017, rushing for 181 yards in his debut against Indiana, and that was no fluke.
The La Grange, Texas, native finished with 1,403 rushing yards, a single-season school record for an Ohio State freshman.
That left fans anxious to see what he would do for an encore, but the second act was a little different.
While Dobbins became the first Buckeye back to go over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons, nearly 400 yards were sliced off his production.
A significant factor in the 5-foot-10, 217-pounder finishing with 1,053 yards in 2018 was something not of Dobbins’ doing, though.
With 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Mike Weber back to full health (his battle with an early-season hamstring problem opened the door for Dobbins to win the same award a year later), Alford chose to rotate the pair last season.
They combined for 2,075 yards, but there was a downside.
Both saw a significant decrease in yards per carry from the season he was the top back.
Weber averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2016 and 5.5 last season while Dobbins saw his average drop from an eye-popping 7.2 yards per carry in ‘17 to 4.5 last season.
After deciding not to use his last year of eligibility, Weber is preparing for the NFL draft. He confirmed in February he was not a fan of sharing carries but chose to look on the bright side.
“At the time you want to be able to show the world what you can do with the opportunities you get,” Weber said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “I feel like now a lot of these teams are looking at guys like they have a lot of tread on the tire.”
>>READ MORE: Weber wants to show NFL teams his all-around game
Dobbins has also maintained he had no problem with how Alford divvied up carries, but he put the situation in perspective.
“It didn’t bother me splitting reps,” he said Thursday, emphasizing the word bother,” but you approach the game differently. It changed our games.”
That is something Alford saw, too.
“In his defense, he was always trying to make this huge play because we were rotating backs,” the coach said. “His thing was, ‘If I’m only going to get so many reps, every chance I get I’m gonna try to blow the doors wide open.’ That’s not how the game works. You’ve got to stay with the design of the play. So there was some frustration in there, and there’s a bunch of things that play into that, the mental aspect of it, and I could have done a better job at helping him navigate those waters.”
Now the two have recalibrated their relationship and are pointed toward what they hope is a brighter future this fall.
Making that reality will take a blast from the past.
“I watch film of both years and last year was a down year for me so going back and looking at freshman year I feel like I can get back to that,” Dobbins said.
And what is that form?
“Making guys miss super bad, like makin’ ‘em fall,” Dobbins said with his customary devilish grin. "Stuff like that.”
That is what Alford likes to hear.
“Our whole thing this whole offseason and really toward the end of last season was get back to what you were,” Alford said. “This is the J.K. that I know, and it’s kind of fallen off the ledge a little bit. We need to get back to this, and we’re going to get back to this.
“It wasn’t a fight because he wanted it. He admitted it. J.K. is a very mature young guy. He said, ‘You’re right.’ So it’s a work in progress. I’m working with it too.”
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