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Samuel may be answer for Buckeyes

08/11/2014, 12:00am EDT
By DAVE HACKENBERG BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Samuel may be answer for Buckeyes

COLUMBUS — Carlos Hyde.

How will the Ohio State football team replace him in 2014, especially with some holes to fill on an offensive line that seemed capable of moving small mountains?

“You always build around what you have,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said Sunday. “And we got awfully comfortable leaning on that big back and that line.”

Hyde carried the ball 208 times last season and rushed for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns.

He’s gone now. How do the Buckeyes replace him?

Ezekial Elliott is No. 1 on the tailback depth chart, but broke his left wrist in a drill last Friday and is wearing a cast. He actually led OSU in yards per carry last year, rushing 30 times and picking up 8.7 yards per attempt.

There is Rod Smith, a back in Hyde’s image at 6-3, 231 pounds, but he may be a tad behind after missing spring ball while tending to academics. You hear the name Bri’onte Dunn, who lettered last season, bandied about.

But the name to remember may be Curtis Samuel, a true freshman from Erasmus High in Brooklyn, N.Y., who may just be faster than a speeding bullet and tougher than nails.

College coaches don’t normally like to talk much about freshmen, but when Meyer did a live segment on ESPN recently Samuel was one of the first names out of his mouth.

“I love that kid,” Meyer said during media day at the Woody Hayes Center. “He goes hard. Man, he’s so talented.”

Then, running backs coach Stan Drayton just gushed about the kid.

“Curtis still has to earn his way, but when you have a talent like that in your backfield it’s hard not to talk about it with some excitement,” Drayton said.

Samuel is 5-11, 190 pounds, the smallest of all the backs in the mix. The only reservation Meyer indicated was when asked if the frosh was physical enough to plow between the tackles.

“To be determined,” Meyer said.

Drayton had a tough time keeping a straight face when that was repeated to him.

“He’s tough enough,” Drayton said. “He definitely has the ability and toughness to do everything we need. He’s running through the tackles. You can’t play that position in this offense and not run between tackles.

“He’s the smallest one, but the fastest. He plays bigger than his size.”

Even Elliott, who was subdued while saying he is frustrated to be hurt and out of contact during such a critical period of preseason camp, smiled and became animated when discussing Samuel.

“Man, he’s phenomenal,” Elliott, who was last season’s true freshman find, said. “He’s probably the most explosive of all the backs. He’s a good fit for us. It’s definitely good to have a freshman with that much talent pushing us.”

Elliott is still hopeful, though, that he’ll return in time to separate himself and be relied upon much like Hyde was a year ago.

“Every running back wants that kind of chance,” Elliott said. 

“After the year Carlos had there is a lot for us to live up to. There are a lot of expectations, but we have some great backs and we’re all capable.”

Capable, perhaps. Seasoned? Not very.

The least experienced of them all is the one everybody is talking about.

“I think I’m a talented guy,” Samuel said. “I can be explosive and make plays. But I’m not the only one and I have more of an adjustment than anybody in learning the playbook and understanding the game and the way Ohio State plays it. It’s been an exciting time, but it’s been ‘welcome to college’ for me.”

Drayton said sorting out the starter will take some time.

“Carlos was a seasoned veteran,” he said. “These kids haven’t been time-tested yet. That’s not to say we lack talent to fill the void. But we do lack game-day experience and maturity. We have a good grasp of what our nucleus will be, but a lot of guys on this team, including my running backs, haven’t done enough to cross the line. They haven’t proved their value.

“The guys who put it all together the fastest are the ones who play. I can’t say one guy in our group has figured it out completely.”

In the meantime, all eyes are on a certain freshman.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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