The first day of preseason camp was consistent with the beginning of spring ball for J.K. Dobbins.
The junior running back is doing everything he can to get back to his fabulous freshman form after a sophomore campaign he termed a failure.
When a reporter seemed surprised Dobbins would use that particular “f” word, he held firm.
“I rushed for a thousand yards, but I feel like I can rush for way more yards this year,” the Texas native insisted. “Last year was a failure to me.”
Dobbins enters his junior season with 2,456 career rushing yards, already good for 19th place in Ohio State history.
A freshman-school-record 1,403 of those yards came in 2017 when he averaged 7.2 yards per carry.
Last season, he not only ran for fewer yards (1,053) while splitting carries with Mike Weber but more significantly saw a big drop in the latter category (4.6).
(For perspective, another season like last year would place him fifth on the OSU career rushing list, between Beanie Wells and Tim Spencer, but replicating his freshman season would vault Dobbins to No. 3, past Spencer and Eddie George while trailing only Ezekiel Elliott and Archie Griffin.)
While Dobbins is still listed at 5-10, 217 pounds, he said he cut his percent body fat from 12 to eight after changing his diet and ratcheting up his workout regimen.
What does he hope those changes will produce on the field?
“Just more pop, more explosion — more everything is what you’ll see this year,” Dobbins said.
With the ability to enter the NFL draft next spring, this could be a big-money year for Dobbins personally, but he said team goals come first.
Those go hand-in-hand, anyway, as Dobbins figures to be one of the most important Buckeyes this fall, especially early in the season when they are breaking in a new starting quarterback.
“I want to have that responsibly of the team leaning on me in time of need,” he said. “With that being said, that’s another reason I went on a diet because I know I’m gonna have to help my team out a lot. I know we have some talented guys, but they haven’t really played before so me helping them being right along side them knowing what to do being experienced will help them a lot.”
His offseason work won’t be on display for the public until the season-opening game against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31, but it has already caught the attention of head coach Ryan Day.
“Seems to me like he’s very serious right now,” Day said. “I believe he lost four percent body fat. When you look at him, that is significant. That means he really worked hard this summer.”
The coach is taking nothing for granted, though.
“We’ll have to see how he does,” Day said. “I’d like to sit here and tell you I know what it’s going to look like. I don’t until we start playing games.”
He primarily needs two things from Dobbins: To maximize his productivity on his carries and help make sure his backups are ready to go when he needs a break.
“We talked about it last night in our offensive meeting, how he has to make 3-yard runs into 5-yard runs, 4-yard runs into 6-yard runs,” Day said.
That should lead to even bigger plays, another area where Dobbins’ first college season differed noticeably from his second.
After breaking off 16 runs of 20 yards or more in 2017, Dobbins had only four last season according to CFBStats.com.
“Before you know it, you start leaning on teams, come out the back end and the home runs will hit naturally,” Day said. “He has to roll with his pads down, he has to run hard.”
There is no shortage of candidates to spell Dobbins, but someone from a group that includes Demario McCall, Master Teague, Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers must show he can do it.
“They don’t have a choice,” Day said. “Someone is going to have to step up. We’re not going to just put J.K. out there like that. One of those guys has to step up. Who is it going to be? Who gets the reps, the backup reps? It will be dependent on preseason.”
The success of the running game as a whole will also depend on how well coach Greg Studrawa is able to rebuild an offensive line that lost four starters, but Dobbins is confident in the group competing for spots in the No. 1 group.
At least some of that faith is based on recruiting rankings.
Sophomores Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis were both five-star recruits coming out of high school, as was redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere.
They join fifth-year seniors Josh Alabi, Branden Bowen and Jonah Jackson in a competition to join a lineup that returns only left tackle Thayer Munford, who was a four-star prospect in 2017.
>>RELATED: Myers ready for bigger role
Although Alabi, Bowen and Jackson (who was a starter last season at Rutgers) were lower-profile recruits, they all have at least some game experience to rely on, so Studrawa has an interesting mix of talent and experience.
“They’ve got the talent, but they’re also hard workers so you’ll see,” Dobbins said. “Things are gonna be there and I can trust it. They’re there every time.”
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