Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford has the kind of difficult situation that every position coach strives for — how do you find snaps for each of your talented players?
The Buckeyes have a running back room of five scholarship players with varying degrees of experience, but the same level of high expectations. Juniors TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, senior Chip Trayanum, and sophomore Dallan Hayden have each been counted on like a starter in their respective careers. There is also redshirt sophomore Evan Pryor, who missed last season with a knee injury and certainly expected to have more than just 21 carries over his first two years as a Buckeye.
This isn’t 1957, so three or four starting running backs in the same backfield isn’t going to happen. The playing time becomes a difficult math equation, but when asked if he owed the players playing time, Alford was adamant that the numbers would work themselves out. They always do.
“I don’t owe them anything. No, I think that you get what you deserve. You get what you earn,” Alford said. “And they’ve earned, in my eyes, they’ve earned an opportunity to show themselves. They’ve earned an opportunity to get reps. It’s not about owing anybody anything. They don’t owe us. We don’t owe them. You get what you earn, and you earn it every single day by how you walk in this building, how you carry yourself really outside the building as well.
“You earn it how you sit in meetings, and how attentive you are in meetings, how intentional you are about every single rep because every single rep matters. Whether it be a walkthrough rep, rather it be a rep in in the meeting room, whether it be a game speed rep, whether it be a mental rep. Every single rep matters, and you earn those. And so that’s where you get reps. You do well on rep one, chances are you’ll get a second or third rep. If you don’t, then chances are you won’t. But that’s the life that we live in.”
The Mitch Is Back
The last time Mitchell Melton played in a game for the Buckeyes it was the 2020 season opener in late October. It was his true freshman season, and in no world could he have envisioned missing his next two seasons with injuries.
Melton suffered season-ending injuries in the spring of 2021 and spring of 2022. The latter injury happening as the linebacker-turned defensive end was impressing coaches and earning a spot in the Buckeyes’ rotation.
The injury erased that, and also erased spring this year for Melton. The medical staff has continued to bring him back slowly so that he will be ready for the 2023 season. And despite not playing almost at all during his Ohio State career, defensive line coach Larry Johnson and Jim Knowles have significant plans for Melton.
After moving to defensive end a year ago, Knowles singled Melton out in the winter as a guy that they will look at in their hybrid linebacker/defensive end “Jack” position.
With fall camp starting late last week, Melton is back on the practice field, but they’re easing him into the month-long campaign.
“We have to watch him, yeah, because he just hasn’t played in a while,” Knowles said.
The defense hasn’t yet begun the installation of the Jack package, but when they do, Melton is expected to be ready for the work.
“We want to get Mitchell back on his feet as a rush end, and then eventually work in some Jack with him,” Knowles said. “Mitch just needs playing reps and playing speed and playing conditioning, you know he’s been out a while.”
Leading The Witnesses
The Ohio State football team is in the middle of a full-blown quarterback competition this fall. Junior Kyle McCord and redshirt freshman Devin Brown have been splitting reps with the first team in fall camp, just as they did in spring practice.
There will obviously be a huge focus on what happens on the field, be it reads or throws or plays made. But the job will also be won through leadership, which is where Brown believes he’s made his biggest strides.
“Probably just leadership, honestly,” he said a week ago. “When I hurt my finger, I wasn’t able to do anything, I wasn’t able to do much of the lifts. But to be able to be in that locker room and in that weight room, and just being able to vocalize myself and get guys going and push guys and really show guys that I’m here to do this thing.”
McCord, meanwhile, has been the Ohio State backup quarterback for the past two seasons while CJ Stroud rewrote the record books. He saw first-hand what it takes to lead this team, which is why he worked so hard to pick up that baton and fill the leadership void left by Stroud’s departure.
“I think honestly, just being able to get up in the team and just be a vocal leader, I think that’s really important with the quarterback,” McCord said. “I think if you watch the best guys like Brady, Burrow, and Rodgers, I think the one thing, they obviously all different styles of play, but they’re all very vocal guys. I think that was kind of the next step in my leadership process, is being heard, and I think this offseason I did a good job of getting up and talking in front of the team.”