The Ohio State backfield won't have its "Boom" for the first five games this season. But it could still be explosive.
Dan "Boom" Herron, who led the Buckeyes with 1,155 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns a year ago, will just be a spectator while serving his five-game suspension to start the year. A quartet of players is trying to replace him, and despite their relative inexperience, they could still comprise the strength of the Ohio State attack.
"You'd have to say those running backs are a big part of the offense, whether it's running or receiving," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said when asked to identify a strength on his side of the ball.
The Buckeyes have many talented options, even if a clear cut No. 1 tailback hasn't yet emerged.
Sophomore Jaamal Berry and junior Jordan Hall have already made their mark as special teams aces, and they're the swiftest of the bunch. Sophomore Carlos Hyde and redshirt freshman Rod Smith are both 230-plus pound power backs. Bollman says all four will play this year, and all are good receivers. He'll be able to mix and match as he pleases.
"You're never afraid to run any of them, and you can keep them fresh, which is a big deal," he said.
If there's been a slight surprise this camp, it's been Hyde. Seemingly behind the others after spring practice, he has taken a lot of first-team reps with Berry missing time because of a nagging hamstring injury. Hyde has shown an aggressiveness and willingness to use his strength.
"I have a better feel for the offense; I'm comfortable now when I'm running plays that I know what I'm doing," Hyde said. "I understand I'm a big guy, and I try to use that to my advantage when defenders try to tackle me."
Berry has dealt with injuries during his young career but has the skill set to take over as the main ball carrier. Hall will get a lot of playing time, but not always necessarily in the backfield. He has lined up as a slot receiver plenty this preseason and figures to pose a versatile threat.
"He's a guy who's not real big, but he's really a talented, talented overall football player," Bollman said. "He's a great return man, he's been a Wildcat quarterback for us, he's a nifty runner and a good blocker and a great receiver. This is a guy who makes plays."
Smith appeared destined for a breakout season after drawing raves during last year's bowl practice and having a good spring. But Bollman said he's "maybe in the learning stages a little bit more" than his other competitors because of his inexperience.
Regardless, the Buckeyes look to have a little bit of everything at their disposal in the backfield.
"We could bring back the thunder and lighting thing with me and Rod as the big guys and Jaamal and Jordan as the quick and fast guys," Hyde said. "That would be a pretty sweet combination."
With a first-time starter at quarterback, even less experience at wide receiver and a veteran offensive line, it makes sense that Ohio State will rely heavily on its run game at the beginning of the year. Even without Herron, the Buckeyes should remain a powerful team on the ground.
"I feel like me, Jordan, Jaamal and Ron will step up to the plate when the time is needed," Hyde said. "And when we get 'Boom' back, then we'll be even better."