BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Ohio State is opening the season without running back Mike Weber in the starting lineup, and freshman J.K. Dobbins will take his place.
A late injury setback with Weber’s injured hamstring delayed his bid to provide an encore to his breakout freshman campaign a year ago, thrusting Dobbins into a first-team role in the first game of his career with the Buckeyes.
Ohio State had been cautious with Weber’s health throughout training camp, easing him back into practices after opening it with a nagging hamstring issue. As recently as Tuesday, it looked like Weber would be cleared for action for the opener on Thursday night at Indiana. But at some point in Ohio State’s final preparations for the Hoosiers, Weber tweaked his leg again and forced some reshuffling of the depth chart.
“He was about 100 percent, then he had another little tug on him,” Meyer said Tuesday on his weekly radio show. “We’re being very cautious with him, but he should be ready to go.”
The Buckeyes never fully committed to a plan for their backfield earlier in the week, though, with Meyer indicating he still needed to see how close to full speed Weber would be on Thursday. Weber didn’t quite get there for the Hoosiers, at least in time for a full workload. Now he should have a little more than a week to recover for a huge clash in Week 2 against Oklahoma.
In addition to Weber’s status, it also wasn’t clear early in the week exactly how much Dobbins or Demario McCall would factor in the game plan no matter how Weber was feeling. But now both will take on a much larger role for the Buckeyes and a rushing attack that annually has been one of the best in the Big Ten under Urban Meyer. And quarterback J.T. Barrett and H-back Parris Campbell also figure to be significant factors as the Buckeyes go to work without Weber, just the third freshman in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
“I do think that having one guy, that’s a special person to be able to do that because of the beating that you take, the pounding that you take week in and week out,” running backs coach Tony Alford said earlier this month. “To go an entire season with one guy is very unique.
“Here’s what I prefer — I prefer whatever works for our football team to have success. If that means it takes two guys, three guys or if it takes one, I’m good. … We’re going to do whatever is in the best interest of this football team to win and have success. If that’s by committee, that’s how it will be.”
The committee wasn’t quite at full strength, at least for Week 1.