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COLUMBUS, Ohio - A traditional run game has never been a part of Urban Meyer's offenses since his first head coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001. That doesn't mean the run game has been non-existent. Instead, Meyer has just gone about it in unconventional ways.
At Florida bruising quarterback Tim Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin drove defenses mad for their versatility and complex running styles. The duo was a main piece to an offensive equation that won two national championships.
Meyer is trying to replicate that success at Ohio State. There have been setbacks this spring, however, as the offense hasn't taken hold as Meyer and running backs coach Stan Drayton would have liked.
"This offense takes a while (to learn)," said Drayton, who coached alongside Meyer at Florida. "It's not an easy offense. It's a very complicated offense. They have to know a lot. Right now, they're playing the game thinking. That's why we're not playing 100 percent. Once they get it, you'll start to see the speed improve."
But the potential among the running backs is evident and, to the coaches, not a surprise.
"A back can flourish and will flourish in this offense," Drayton said.
"This is a run-first offense. We run power just like a pro-style offense runs power. We just dress it up a little bit."
What Drayton means is the objective is to get playmakers the ball while they're in space. The common misconception is the spread is all about passing, but getting the ball in Jordan Hall or Carlos Hyde's hands can be just as important as getting it to Jake Stoneburner.
"In the Urban Meyer system, playmakers touch the football," Drayton said. "We'll make the system fit the playmakers."
When Florida won the national title in 2008, the Gators amassed 3,236 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns on 545 carries. That is nearly six yards per carry. The bulk of that came from Tebow, but it still proves how valuable a solid run game can be in Meyer's offense.
"Is there one person I can target as having the light come on? Probably not yet," Drayton said. "Not the way I've seen this offense operate. So we've got a ways to go, but we're definitely going in the right direction."
The Buckeyes have a stable of backs to choose from, with Hall and Hyde at the front of the line. Drayton said he won't set a depth chart until after the conclusion of spring ball because he likes the competition that's been brought out in his group so far.
Earlier this spring, Meyer said Hall was one of two playmakers on the offense, the other being Stoneburner.
"But that's obviously not near enough," Meyer added.
Hall's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make guys miss makes him the ideal type of back for Meyer. Hall has taken notice in three weeks of practice and feels the new system is "perfect" compared to the antiquated schemes of the past.
"The zone reads, the screens, everything like that and just getting in the open field, I think that's a good fit for me," Hall said. "In this offense, we've been split out a lot. This offense uses all the running backs in the wide receiver position."
Hyde, who rushed for 566 yards and six touchdowns last season, has also flourished in the spring. But unlike Hall, Hyde has done most of his damage in a more traditional sense, by handoff and running between the tackles.
Hyde did score on a 70-yard catch and run in Wednesday's practice on a broken play. Last fall, Hyde had 10 receptions for 73 yards.
Said Meyer, "He's drinking the Kool-Aid right now."
"Carlos' progression is going to very significant to our run game," Drayton added.
But it doesn't stop at Hall and Hyde. Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn are also pushing for playing time. The lonely and exiled Smith, who was last seen at linebacker before spring practice, has taken a number of carries this spring and looks to be the No. 3 back behind Hyde.
After multiple fumbles in 2011, Smith had a brief stint at linebacker. He then missed the team flight to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl, leaving his status on the team unknown.
Dunn, meanwhile, has already caught the eye of Meyer. An early-enrollee, Dunn was a high-school standout, rushing for more than 5,000 yards in his career.
"He's involved," Meyer said. "I don't think he'll redshirt. I think we'll play him on special teams and he's also going to get some snaps. He's done a very nice job. He's a good kid, too. He's doing all the right things off the field."
It will be on the field at Ohio Stadium this Saturday where Dunn and the rest of the running backs give the fans their first glimpse of an all new Buckeye run game.
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