Hall is first option among Ohio State's tailbacks
By RUSTY MILLER
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) What's a high-energy, fast-paced offense without a back who is capable of keeping a drive going?
With Dan "Boom" Herron no longer around, there are a lot of questions surrounding Ohio State's tailbacks.
Ohio State's coaches have not released a two-deep roster. But Hall, a senior who is probably more famous for being a high school teammate of Buckeyes outcast Terrelle Pryor than for anything he's done on the field in college, has clearly made an impression.
"We're going to play to Jordan Hall's strengths," running backs coach Stan Drayton said. "He's a guy who can be a versatile player for us. He is primarily a tailback, but we're going to put more on his plate and see how much he can handle."
However, Hall is on the small side (5-foot-9 and 198 pounds) and only carried 100 times last year. Hyde is more of a typical Ohio State back, at 235 bruising pounds. Dunn has gotten notice as a raw freshman and Smith still figures into the plan.
Heading into Saturday's annual intrasquad scrimmage at Ohio Stadium, though, Hall knows he has a lot to prove - and that a lot of people are counting on him.
"It's a perfect fit, really," he said of the offense that new head coach Urban Meyer brought from Florida. "The offense, the zone reads, the screens, everything like that - just getting it in the open field - that's a good fit for me."
At Florida, Meyer made a point of getting the ball to his biggest threats. That meant putting wide receiver Percy Harvin, now with the Minnesota Vikings, all over the place - in the backfield, out wide, in the slot, taking direct snaps.
The tradition at Ohio State is for a quarterback - sometimes a pocket thrower, sometimes a combo runner and passer - to hand the ball to a back who is lined up behind him. Big linemen clear space, and the back runs to daylight.
Herron, despite a six-game suspension for NCAA violations, rushed for 675 yards and seven touchdowns on plays that could just as easily have been drawn up by Woody Hayes back in the 1960s.
But that wasn't the playbook at Florida. Harvin, a tall, lanky sprinter, flourished in the system - as did the Gators, who won two national championships running it. Quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Chris Leak threw the ball but were also used as another running option.
"In this system, in the Urban Meyer system, playmakers touch the ball. And we're going to make the system fit our playmakers," Drayton said. "We feel as if we've got ballcarriers here; they're time-proven, they're game-ready, they've been in game situations before. So there is no question that a thousand-yard rusher can be in this offense."
The adjustment to fitting new players into Meyer's attack has experienced some bumps along the way. The defense, where Ohio State returns nine starters, manhandled the offense in the early going this spring. Also, the passing game is well behind the run game.
All of which is to be expected, Meyer said.
"Throwing the ball is one of the hardest things to do in football because it starts with protection and timing and all of those types of things," Meyer said. "I can't say that I'm surprised by what's going on. That's normal. The defense usually beats the mess out of the offense, the offense usually gets the running game going a little bit and then you develop the passing game."
It's clear that the coaching staff beams when talking about Hall. Mostly a kick returner through his first three years with the Buckeyes, he wasn't much of a performer in the classroom either. But he has picked up his grade-point average from a baseline 2.0 to a 3.4. Quiet and unassuming around teammates, he's also taken a more active role in encouraging younger players and assuming a leadership role.
Hall, still a close friend of Pryor who was banned from contact with Ohio State after NCAA violations, was asked if Buckeyes fans have ever seen anything like the offense the Buckeyes will utilize this season.
"Well, not from an Ohio State team. Maybe when coach Meyer was at Florida, they might know it from that. But I don't think anything like this has been in Ohio Stadium," he said. "I think we'll be able to put up a lot of points in this offense. Yes, it's exciting."
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap .
Updated April 18, 2012