Monday, July 02, 2007

The Backfield

For the first time since the 2004 season, the Buckeye backfield will be noticeably missing the majority of it's offensive output. That is because after two consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons (the first Buckeye to accomplish such a feat since Eddie George), Antonio Pittman made the jump to the pro ranks where he is now trying to make the Saints' squad. Unlike the quarterback position, however, we actually do know what we're getting out of most of our replacements.

Projected Starter
Chris "Beanie" Wells
6'1" 230 lbs

Sophomore

A beautiful sight

Strengths: Beanie graduated from high school in the Winter of 2006 and enrolled at Ohio State for spring practice the following Spring. Ever since he made that decision, he has taken Columbus by storm. With his fan-friendly nickname and Maurice Clarett/Adrian Peterson-like combination of bruising power with 4.4 speed, Wells became a fan favorite early in the season despite only entering the game to spell Pittman and in short yardage situations. In fact, Wells' greatest strength as a player that he displayed last year was his ability to take a hand off on third and short, and take the ball right up the middle -- even though everybody on the opposing defense knew it was coming -- and move the chains regardless. Despite being a known commodity for his short yardage contributions, Wells showed off one of his traits that one wouldn't be able to readily identify from looking at his 230 pound frame against Michigan: his athleticism. Wells took the second down hand off from Troy Smith out of Shotgun, and was immediately met by a Michigan defender. Instead of taking the three yard loss, however, Wells essentially spun out of his shoes to evade the defender (on the same crummy field that had everyone else falling on their faces), found a hole to run through, then found some Michigan defensive backs to run by en route to a 52 yard touchdown run. Even though it was only one play, it was one of the few opportunities Beanie had all year to show off his nimbleness, and as the play clearly shows, the man is a complete back. As a full time starter with an inexperienced quarterback, expect Beanie to get in the neighborhood of "workhorse" back numbers, probably around 25 carries a game with around 1,200 yards rushing, and probably being in the top 3 or 4 in the Big Ten in touchdowns.

Weaknesses: Beanie really only displayed one glaring flaw in his game last season, and that was his ability to hold on to the football. Wells lost four fumbles on the year, and just about all four of them came in crucial short yardage situations. Fortunately, carrying the football is a skill that can be taught over time, and it is not a physical or mental flaw (e.g. speed, size, maturity, etc.) that is unlikely to be overcome in a football player's college days. Wells did not fumble the ball once in his final 18 carries of the season, despite fumbling twice in his 19 prior carries. That alone shows Wells' development as a football player. Of course, we won't know for sure until next season. Another question mark around Beanie is his durability as an every down back in the Big Ten. It's not necessarily a weakness, it's just something that we haven't seen enough of to make a valid judgment yet. He had 103 carries last season, which is 31 more than Antonio Pittman had in his freshman season (the season before he became the full-time starter). After Pittman's freshman year, he also made comments about wearing down towards the end of the season -- even though he had such a low carry total -- and it raised questions about his durability. Well, he turned out just fine as a running back, and I haven't read anything anywhere about Beanie wearing down towards the end of last season, and he had 31 more carries than Pittman did. I think an offseason of conditioning and practice as the #1 guy on the depth chart is all the preparation that he'll need for the 25 carries a game that he's likely to get.

Projected #2 Running Back

Maurice Wells
5'10" 190 lbs

Junior

Maurice Wells is the kind of player that you absolutely have to love as a fan. Despite being so small, his commitment, heart, and work ethic have made him into a respectable Big Ten running back. His entire life he's been told he's too small to be a solid contributor as a running back to a college football team, but he still managed to get a scholarship to Ohio State. After coming in and playing as a freshman, Wells had to face another harsh reality. As a sophomore, instead of being weaned into the starter's role to take over for Pittman if/when he left for the NFL, Chris Wells, the blue chip prospect from Akron jumped ahead of him in the depth chart. But instead of taking the easy way out and transferring to another school, the elder Wells has taken the high road, and will be a solid contributor out of the backfield this season, even if it is as the #2 guy. It may be a cliche, but Maurice Wells is a great football player and an even better person, and he deserves every carry that he gets this season.

As far as his physical attributes are concerned, MoWells should offer a great change of pace when he enters the game. He's a smaller, speedier back than Chris Wells, and can also catch the ball out of the backfield on a more consistent basis. With his exciting style of play and outlandish dreadlocks, Maurice could be the energizer that this offense needs when it's struggling somewhere down the road.

Projected Backups
Brandon Saine and/or Danny "Boom" Herron
6'1" 205 lbs and 5'9" 198 lbs, respectively

Both true freshmen (one may redshirt)


Saine and Herron both enter the 2007 campaign as true freshmen, and one (if not both) of them will make a serious contribution to the team this season. Saine was Ohio's Mr. Football last season, running for 1,895 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. His YouTube resume speaks volumes by itself, but I'll just let you watch and decide that for yourself. My personal favorite play on the highlight reel is when he chases down the kick returner from about 15 yards back. If he doesn't redshirt next year, which I doubt he will, he could also make an impact as a kick returner.

Herron is a different style of player. He prefers to run right over his opponents (hence the nickname), rather than around them. His size raises some serious question marks for someone of his power style, which is why most feel that he is more likely to redshirt a year until he is ready to handle the load of a Big Ten schedule. However, I won't be overly surprised if he does play, because he appears to have that same aspect of "forget the measurables, I can play" to his game that I mentioned earlier with Maurice Wells.

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