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Hyde out for a stretch, but Buckeyes are deep at running back

Ohio State coaches didn’t like what leading rusher Carlos Hyde did that forced them to have to take disciplinary action, but the senior running is earning their admiration for how he’s behaved since being slapped with a three-game suspension.

Rather than sulking after finding out he’d have to sit out a quarter of his last regular-season with the Buckeyes, the second-team All-Big Ten pick has been a positive influence and is doling out pointers to those who are fighting to fill his spot.

“Any adversity is going to be hard when you take away the things you love, but I’ve been happy with how he’s responded to that,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said.

“He’s forced to take on a leadership role, and he’s learned a lot from what he’s gone through. Just watching him mature and take those young guys under his wing, he can bring a lot to the table right now. He’s got to pay his dues, and there’s nothing we can do about that. He understands that. But his production and his development don’t stop because of that.”

The Buckeyes don’t have anybody to match Hyde’s rodeo-bull style of running, but the position has depth and diversity.

Diminutive senior Jordan Hall (5-8, 193) can play the hybrid tailback-receiver spot, while junior Rod Smith (6-3, 238), sophomore Bri’onte Dunn (6-2, 222) and redshirt freshman Warren Ball (6-1, 222) all have the speed and bulk to thrive in the power running game.

The coaches are still trying to figure out how to maximize the talents of freshman sensation Dontre Wilson (5-10, 174), while Ezekiel Elliott (6-0, 210) is another new arrival with plenty of upside.

Hyde’s off-field issue — he was investigated for physically assaulting a woman in a bar, though charges were never filed — has given Smith the early lead on the tailback spot. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry last season, although ball security has been a problem in the past.

“I see it as a great opportunity for me,” Smith said. “But at the same time, I came in with the mindset I was going to get better and I was going to compete no matter what the situation was.”

Coach Urban Meyer has said he always goes into a season expecting recruits to play right away, not redshirt, and Elliott certainly likes the sound of that.

He was a highly touted prospect from St. Louis and wavered in his decision just before signing day, causing much angst among Buckeye fans. Missouri made a strong surge for him, and his home-state school had an advantage since Elliott’s father and mother were former Mizzou athletes.

“I was just trying to collect all my thoughts, making sure I was making the right decision,” Elliott said “It’s very stressful for recruits in the recruiting process. The thoughts of leaving home, I think I was getting a little antsy.

“I thought, ‘I could go to Mizzou, a school that’s about an hour and a half away from home — where my parents went and my dad played football and my mom ran track. Or do I go to Ohio State? I think I made the right choice to come out here and play for the Buckeyes.”

Asked what the OSU staff liked most about him, Elliott said: “My versatility. I have size to run between the tackles and speed to stretch it out. I can also catch the ball out of the backfield.”

But Elliott knows climbing the depth chart at OSU won’t be easy.

“We’re all working our (tails) off. We’re just grinding, listening to coach Drayton and taking in everything he’s teaching us,” he said.

Drayton likes having a surplus of quality backs because they end up pushing each other.

“The competition in my group is incredible. (They’re) very, very highly competitive individuals,” he said. “You’ve got some guys who have been battle tested. You’ve got some new talent that’s bringing another dimension to the group. When you’ve got a situation like this, it’s not like you’re begging guys anymore (for effort).

“These guys know they have to find their purpose on this team. And it’s not just running back play. You’ve got to find a way to get on special teams and get on the (team) bus. I can’t take them all. That competition on a daily basis is making that group improve at an incredible rate right now.”

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