COLUMBUS, Ohio — By the time his freshman season had ended, it was easy to envision how Demario McCall factored into Ohio State’s future plans. He saw primarily in mop-up duty, but the Buckeyes coaching staff compared his progress to that of star H-back Curtis Samuel.
With Samuel headed to the NFL this season, most figured McCall would be the second-round draft pick’s replacement. Last December, McCall himself believed he would be moving from running back to H-back.
At the time, that could have been the plan. Plans, however, sometimes change.
Throughout Ohio State’s 15 spring practices, the sophomore didn’t play “the Percy Harvin position.” He remained as a backup running back. At one point, early enrollee J.K. Dobbins even passed McCall on the depth chart.
“I actually haven’t got any reps at H-back this spring,” McCall said in March. “I’m fully working with the tailbacks because we’re running a little short.”
But while McCall insisted a position change could be in the cards this summer, it’s worth noting Ohio State had more viable candidates at running back than it did at H-back this spring. Nevertheless, Urban Meyer opted to keep the North Ridgeville, Ohio, native in the backfield, while Parris Campbell emerged as the team’s top playmaker at ‘H.’
With Mike Weber established as the team’s starting running back, where does that leave McCall heading into his sophomore season? A few possibilities come to mind.
‘Thunder and lightning’
One option would be keeping the former 4-star prospect in the Buckeyes backfield and giving him an increased role. With Weber being more of a thumper, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound McCall is one of the fastest players on Ohio State’s roster. Think of a modern-day version of the LenDale White-Reggie Bush “thunder and lightning” pairing at USC.
Adding credence to this possibility — aside from McCall remaining in the backfield — is new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson’s history of using two running backs. In 2015, Indiana backs Jordan Howard and Devine Redding each rushed for more than 1,000 yards under Wilson’s direction.
While Weber had a nice 2016 season, totaling 1,096 yards and 9 touchdowns, he appeared to lack the top-end speed to consistently turn in big runs. A two-running back system with more McCall could serve as a solution to that problem.
For the uninitiated, Meyer’s H-back position serves as a running back-wide receiver hybrid. Typically, the player will line up in the slot with the ability to shift into the backfield as a ball carrier. Given his experience at wideout and running back, Campbell makes perfect sense for the role.
But what if the Buckeyes can get two such players on the field?
With a versatile skill set, it’s not crazy to think McCall could find a spot that allows him to play alongside Campbell. Imagine McCall in the backfield and Campbell in the slot, with opponents unaware of who will go into motion and where. Or Campbell in the backfield and McCall in the slot — or both in the slot or both in the backfield.
Jack of all trades
Why limit a player of McCall’s ability to one role?
With Weber entrenched as the starting back and Campbell now playing ‘H,’ Ohio State could benefit from having a player such as McCall who’s capable of playing both.
That could mean backing up both players or playing alongside them. But it’s not hard to envision McCall’s role expanding, even if he’s not one of the team’s official starters.
Since arriving at Ohio State in 2012, Meyer has long craved a roster full of versatile players. This season might feature his most versatile team to date. Perhaps that’s why three months before fall camp there’s still no telling how the Buckeyes will use one of their most promising young players.
“To be honest,” McCall said, “just be ready when your number is called.”