Ohio State football: Race to be next in line at running back heating up

J.K. Dobbins is one of few knowns on the Ohio State offense for 2019.

(Give underrated senior receiver K.J. Hill honorable mention.)

>>RELATED: Dobbins looking to regain freshman form

Running backs coach Tony Alford still has plenty of work to do this spring, though, and that goes for both who will play and how they should go about it.

“We’ve got some really skilled players, just have to instill some more toughness in my opinion," Alford said. "Trying to finish some runs and just playing with an attitude and more grit.”

Aside from working with Dobbins to return to his freshman form, Alford needs to figure out who is going to be the next back in the game when Dobbins needs a rest since Mike Weber opted to leave for the NFL.

>>READ MORE: Weber wants to show NFL teams his all-around game

It’s a three-man competition at this point, though no decision is likely to be made until preseason practice in August.

Much attention leading up to spring practice went to Master Teague.

After an encouraging cameo in the 2018 spring game, the 5-foot-11, 220-pounder from Murfreesboro, Tenn., would seem to be the front-runner to back up Dobbins, and Alford likes what he has seen so far this spring.

“He’s much more settled, much more comfortable in his own skin,” Alford said. “There’s a toughness factor that’s coming on. He’’s a lot more gritty and grimy player and finishing things off more. Just his knowledge of what is going on around him has allowed him to play faster, so I’m very pleased with what he has done in the past four days.”

An early enrollee a year ago, Teague was trying to find his way, something that did not really happen until late in the season.

Now Teague is more likely “to put his face on people,” as Alford described it, as a better knowledge of the offense as a whole allows him to be more aggressive and less reactive.

“In high school you just kind of react and don’t really know where people are going,” Teague said. “It’s just your athleticism that gets you by. Now you have to have football smarts and that’s what gets you a lot farther at this level.

“It just makes you a better player. It gives you the edge. People that really know the game and really know what’s going on can have an idea what’s going to happen. They basically know what the play is going to look like and what people are going to do. If you just react, you’re going to be slower.”

That leaves the “lost early enrollee” role to Marcus Crowley.

Alford said the 6-1, 205-pounder from Jacksonville, Fla., is “swimming” as he goes through his first college practices.

“As he should be, but the good thing is we’ve thrown him into the fire and he’s made mistakes, but these are prideful guys and that’s what he needs,” Alford said. “He needs to learn in that fire but, he’s got some skills and all of a sudden he’ll flash something and you’ll be like, ‘OK here we go.’”

>>RELATED: Ohio State’s offense lived up to the hype and more in 2018

Then there is Demario McCall.

The oldest member of the group, McCall is a wild card.

He is the smallest of the bunch (5-9, 195), but he is arguably the most dynamic in the open field.

The North Ridgeville, Ohio, native, who has been dealing with a calf injury in the first part of spring ball, has an experience edge on Teague and Crowley even though he has not exclusively played running back since coming south.

>>RELATED: Ryan Day reviews first five spring practices

Having flashed tantalizing ability both at receiver and running back, McCall hopes to have found a home in the backfield again.

“Demario is going to play a lot of football,” Alford said while acknowledging he is not exactly sure what McCall’s role might turn out to be.

“You put him in the backfield and shift him out to some empty sets and then a linebacker has to go out and cover him, that’s a matchup problem.”

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