Less Boren, more options

Senior fullback Zach Boren has lost 25 pounds and will be more than a blocker in Ohio State's offense. AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

Proof of his ability to handle the football was buried behind three years as a blocker.

Zach Boren only needed a couple weeks to knock off that rust and get used to carrying it again.

The bigger hurdle in expanding his role in Ohio State's new spread offense was the athleticism and speed the senior had trapped underneath the extra weight he had accumulated for his other role at fullback.

That process took a bit longer and considerably more effort than simply lining up for offseason drills with the tailbacks this summer. But after shedding 25 pounds and steadily impressing the coaching staff, Boren appears poised to become a legitimate option for the Buckeyes out of the backfield when training camp opens Friday.

"The coaches came in and said they wanted to expand my role, but in order to do that, I had to lose some weight, get faster and stuff like that," Boren said last week at Big Ten media days. "I was on board from the moment they got here.

"It's been a while since I ran the ball, you know back to high school, but I'm trying to get back to those roots. I see my role expanding a lot in this offense, and I'm excited about it, ecstatic to be doing whatever I'm going to be doing this season."

Neither he nor coach Urban Meyer were in a hurry to offer many specifics on what exactly that will be, though at a minimum Boren figures to easily surpass his career rushing numbers of one carry for two yards.

Boren has been more productive as a target in the passing game, with 20 catches and a touchdown spread over his three seasons with the Buckeyes, and his reliable hands along with improved agility should again make him an option there.

Based on offseason sessions that included some drills with the rushers working on cuts and others lined up on the perimeter running routes, Boren's responsibilities might not be easy to nail down even from week to week. But none of that would have really been possible without a stricter diet or an investment in strength coach Mickey Marotti's punishing conditioning program.

"It's just doing a lot more work," Boren said. "[Marotti] is an unbelievable strength coach. He has us doing unbelievable and crazy things, and from his workouts and being on a really, really strict diet, I started shedding pounds.

"I had to work harder, I had to be doing more stuff a day. I'm not just working on my hand placement and hitting dummies. I'm working out with the tailbacks and doing cuts and stuff like that, next time catching balls out of the backfield, next time catching routes from [quarterback] Braxton [Miller] out wide. It's just expanding my role and putting in more time."

Whether that ultimately leads to more of it with the ball remains to be seen.

There is still an entire training camp to go before the first game, and Ohio State has more traditional running backs such as Carlos Hyde or Bri'onte Dunn as well before Jordan Hall returns from injury. But if nothing else, Boren has given Meyer something else to consider -- an option that wasn't there when he was hired.

"It is now," Meyer said. "It wasn't when he was 260 pounds and doesn't move real well. He's an athlete, but I didn't know that. I wanted to evaluate him during spring practice, and I did.

"He's a guy that will touch the ball."

How and where remain somewhat a mystery. The why is pretty clear after the summer.