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Smart move: Balancing Curtis Samuel's workload key in Ohio State's H-back role

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The fights were always good-natured, but there was obviously a legitimate reason Urban Meyer’s assistants were jockeying for the services of Ohio State’s most explosive playmaker.

The wide receivers in “Zone 6” saw the kind of potential a year ago that the kid had after he moved from running back to wideout. And in the meeting room of the “Tote Nation,” the tailbacks wanted to bring him home after seeing the threat he posed seemingly every time the football was simply handed to him.

But Meyer let the two groups know in no uncertain terms they would have to share Curtis Samuel's talents, which the junior has joked makes him the sole member of the “Tote 6” position unit. And despite how it might seem for anybody clamoring for Samuel to be more involved one way or the other, his workload at Meyer’s vaunted H-back position has been almost exactly where he wants it -- and heavier than Percy Harvin’s when he made the role famous at Florida.

“Let me make it clear, I've been places and there have been times where there's no one to get the ball to,” Meyer said. “So we're good. Ask all you want.

“I don’t know what the fixation is. I think he’s having a hell of a year. I don’t mind it, because if we didn’t have him, then what else would we talk about? I’m not sure what the fixation is other than I love him, he’s a great player and a great kid. We’re trying to give him the ball, he gets 15, 14 whatever it is a game. ... [They] gave me the stats, he’s already statistically better than Percy was in any year.”

In terms of overall production, Samuel is on track to post numbers that might even make Harvin jealous. That’s no small feat considering the hybrid role in Meyer’s offense has often been casually referred to simply as the “Percy position.”

Samuel is the only FBS player in the country with more than 500 yards both rushing and receiving. By the end of the regular season, he’s on track to surpass the 1,622 combined yards Harvin racked up during his most prolific season in 2007. He still has a bit of catching up to do when it comes to touchdowns with eight so far for the Buckeyes, and after adding a crucial one late in the narrow victory over Northwestern, Meyer was again asked why Samuel didn’t touch the football more often.

Though there have been times where Meyer has answered by addressing the temptation to force-feed him carries or catches, that’s more complicated than it might seem.

For starters, there are a limited number of plays in the game. Additional carries for Samuel would potentially come at the expense of the power rushing attack with Mike Weber or the threat of a quarterback rush with J.T. Barrett. Locking in on Samuel as a target down the field would obviously limit Barrett’s options when he looks to pass. Ramping up his touches either way comes with the risk of Ohio State's offense becoming predictable for defenses. And if opponents are intent on cutting down on Samuel’s effectiveness, Barrett has been trained to take what’s open and available to him.

“We just run our offense, we’re not doing any of that,” Barrett told reporters after the loss at Penn State. “I can tell you that from here on out, there’s not going to be any ‘Hey, let’s get Curtis the ball this play.’ It’s not going to be like that. We’re going to run our plays, and if Curtis happens to get the ball, Curtis happens to get the ball. Our offense runs very well when that happens.

“We’re not going to start going backwards into, ‘This person has to get the ball, that person has to get the ball.’ Because then you’re just predictable, and that’s not how we play.”

Even with all that factored into the equation, Samuel is still getting the football more frequently than Harvin did during any season in Meyer’s attack. Harvin’s role topped out with an average of 13 combined rushes and receptions during that breakout 2007 campaign, and even on the way to 17 touchdowns the following year he only averaged eight offensive touches per game with the Gators.

Heading into the final month of the season, Samuel is averaging nearly 15 per game for the Buckeyes. And that’s right on both Meyer’s preseason target for him and what Ohio State sees as an ideal number for “Tote 6.”

“That's what we want,” Meyer said. “A 50-50 split, and I wouldn't mind eight each. Eight catches, eight handoffs. We've got to block a little better for him, and he should have more yards than that.

“But if you're wondering what that position is, that's it.”

And with all Samuel is giving them, the Buckeyes aren’t planning to ask for more.