COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Replacing Curtis Samuel might not be a one-man job. But at Ohio State, that’s not exactly an issue when the line to slide into his role started forming the day the star H-back declared for the NFL draft.
Filling the void left by one of the most versatile, dynamic offensive weapons in the country isn’t supposed to be easy, and there also isn’t supposed to be so many seemingly perfect, ready-made candidates on hand to take over such a prominent role. The amount of options might actually provide some challenge for the Buckeyes as they try to identify the best way to move on without Samuel, but as far as problems go, that’s obviously a good one to have.
“I think we’ve got some guys who can do that -- a plethora of guys,” running backs coach Tony Alford said. “Listen, we don’t lack for playmakers. Can they get better? Absolutely. But they’re here, they’re running around this building somewhere. There’s a few of them.
“I think we can spread it out. You don’t just say, I’m going to take all this pie [from Curtis Samuel] and now he gets to eat all the pie. No, everybody has to help fill that role and play their role.”
No matter how the Buckeyes slice it up, Samuel’s heavy plate last season leaves a sizable production void that will have to be filled to keep the power-spread attack humming. And after seeing what Samuel could do in Urban Meyer’s vaunted H-back position a year ago while turning his 97 rushing attempts and 74 receptions into more than 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns, Ohio State had a bunch of hungry receivers and running backs jockeying for a shot at his job.
Veteran wideout Parris Campbell has emerged as an early leader in that battle this spring, and he’s earned rave reviews as he’s flashed back to show some of the tailback skills that he hasn’t really used since high school. K.J. Hill and converted defensive back Eric Glover-Williams have also given the Buckeyes more options to consider, though running back Demario McCall might wind up being the best fit by the time the season kicks off in August.
Like Samuel a few years ago when he was trapped behind Ezekiel Elliott on the depth chart at running back, the incredible potential McCall flashed off the bench as a true freshman is likely still going to be blocked for now by Mike Weber at his current position. But his electrifying moves, blazing speed, versatility and a frame that has added 20 pounds of muscle since arriving on campus are also all reminiscent of Samuel.
The only thing missing now? Actually getting some reps at H-back.
“Yeah, I talked to Coach Alford about it,” McCall said. “In spring camp, he wanted me to get the running back stuff down first and then probably in summer they’re going to put me in the slot, catching those little swing passes and routes and then we’ll go from there.
“I actually haven’t got any reps at H-back this spring. But the tailback stuff that we do, it goes along with the H-back stuff. It’s like I’m learning them both, but I’m not actually in the slot yet.”
That move seems inevitable for the Buckeyes, who have already proven they can’t resist getting McCall involved early in his career.
In his limited opportunities last season, McCall posted some Samuel-like numbers by racking up 270 rushing yards on 49 carries, averaging 21 yards on his four receptions and scoring four touchdowns.
And while he’s still focused on a role primarily in Ohio State’s backfield, working to improve his pass blocking and maintaining that he feels most comfortable at tailback, McCall might soon find himself in a different line for reps. And whether he’s working as part of a group or jumps to the top of the depth chart, it’s already clear McCall isn’t intimidated by the challenge of becoming the next Samuel.
“No, not at all,” McCall said. “I mean, I’m a natural.
“Whenever they tell me to go out in the slot, I’m going to go out there and do what I do.”
With so many candidates for the job on hand, maybe there’s a chance that call won’t come for McCall. But whether replacing Samuel takes one man or several, it’s safer to expect to see his name on the list.