Ohio State’s Tony Alford enjoying ‘real talent’ running back room; ‘Those guys all deserve to play’

There aren’t too many changes from Ohio State’s talented offense in 2021 and the group that will take the field this season. This is especially true in the running back room, where the Buckeyes’ top three players at the position in 2022 are all names with which Scarlet and Gray fans are familiar.

while Master Teague is gone – now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers – and Marcus Crowley was forced to medically retire, Ohio State’s top-two rushers from last year in TreVeyon Henderson other Miyan Williams are back Henderson had a record-setting freshman season, rushing for a team-best 1,248 yards and managing 19 total touchdowns. Williams, despite missing three games, had 507 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

add in Evan Pryorwho redshirted after playing minimal snaps in four games during his true freshman season, and the Buckeyes have a trio they are excited about as fall camp began this week.

This has made work fun for running backs coach Tony Alford.

“I think we’ve got a real talented room, I do,” he said on Friday. “Great guys, great guys to work with. I enjoy coming to work with them every day. I’m asking them to make sure they’re being pros. I should say two of them are at least veterans. But they’ve been in the program now, the top three guys have at least. And so I’m asking them to be pros about the way they approach their business, when they go to meetings, walk throughs, practice. So be pros and just continue to get better. But I love the room right now.”

All three of these running backs took different routes to get to this point.

Williams, the oldest of the trio, got the chance to start to begin last season after serving as a backup the year prior. His time as the No. 1 back didn’t last long, as he returned to the backup role after the first two games.

The reason Williams lost his job wasn’t due to his performances, which were good, but because of Henderson. As the No. 1 ranked running back in the 2021 recruiting class, it was when, not if, Henderson would take over as the starter, even though he didn’t play his senior year of high school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This proved to be the right choice, as Henderson finished with the 20th best rushing season in Scarlet and Gray history in his first year.

Pryor was the odd man out in the running back room last season. Despite also being a highly-regarded prospect, Pryor needed time to adjust, as he too didn’t play his senior year of high school. The North Carolina native’s best game came in a blowout win against Indiana, on his way to a 98-yard, one-touchdown freshman season.

Although Henderson remains Ohio State’s No. 1 running back, the talk this offseason has been about getting all three of these players carries in 2022.

“Right now, pretty much the reps are being distributed pretty evenly right now through Day 2,” Allford said after the second day of fall camp. “That’ll play itself out as we move forward. We’re not in pads right now. So for running back, it’s kind of, are you in the right place? Stance right? Your eye progression right? Are you taking care of the football even in shorts? But we’ll see. That’ll play itself out.

“Those guys all deserve to play. So I got to make sure they’re all ready to play because they all have shown the capacity and the ability to play winning football.”

There is no doubt that Henderson is going to get his share of carries and in close games, he will certainly be expected to carry the load. But Williams and Pryor aren’t just backups.

The assumption is that after Henderson, Williams is the No. 2 back and Pryor is behind him. Alford didn’t get into the depth chart situation but would love to see these two really push each other and make decisions difficult for him, potentially pushing Henderson as well.

“I don’t think it’s about trying to get separation,” Alford said. “I just want guys to continue to get better. And if you show you can play winning ball, then we’re going to find ways. It’s my job, our job to find ways to put you on the field to help the football team to win. And to say there’s got to be this major separation, quite frankly, I hope there’s not a whole lot of separation. It means we’ve got some really good guys and not one guy is so heads and tails above someone else. You’d like to have an opportunity where you have three or four guys that you can throw in and feel comfortable throwing them in the fire.”

With so much talent back this year from a group that statistically was the best in the country last season, Ohio State’s offense is expected to be elite once again in 2022. Much of the discussion about the Buckeye offense is focused on the passing game, and rightly so.

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But Henderson, Williams and Pryor figure to all factor in and hope to establish themselves just like CJ Stroud other Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Alford sees this potential in his more confident and mature group.

“They know what it takes to be a successful college football player,” the coach said. “So their mental make-up has changed. They walk around here a little more confident with their chest out a little bit better. When they’re talking the game, they’re articulating the way that we play and using our terminology and they’re understanding the game of football much more than they did at any time and point last year. But that’s just called maturity. That’s how it should be.”

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