Buckeyes football: Jordan Hall eager to line up as hybrid back in spread

By Tim May 
and Bill Rabinowitz
Columbus Dispatch

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COLUMBUS: Jordan Hall has been smiling a lot this spring — even Tuesday, despite a slightly pulled hamstring that kept him out of on-field action — because the fifth-year senior knows that Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and the offensive staff have big plans for him in the fall if he finally can play a full season.

He is going to be the hybrid back, who lines up in the slot as a running back/receiver and adds the elasticity to the spread offense. Just what his duties will be …

“I really don’t know, to be honest,” Hall said. “I just know catching passes, coach Meyer told me — motions to the backfield, catching screens, different things like that. So I’m really trying to figure it out for myself, too.”

But he likes the concept.

“Usually when you catch the ball as a receiver, there’s two people to make miss,” Hall said. “At running back, you’ve got to run through the D-line, linebackers and safety, so I figure I can make two people miss.”

That he had to watch a lot of the practice Tuesday was disappointing for him, but not considering his plight a year ago. A cut foot suffered in early summer delayed by two games his 2012 debut. Then a sprain of a posterior cruciate ligament in his third game back ended his season.

“I’d never even heard of it,” Hall said of the PCL.

But that injury allowed him to gain a fifth season of eligibility due to medical hardship. And before tweaking his hamstring, he had been off to a fast start on his return this spring.

“I’m really just trying to embrace it,” Hall said of the extra year. “Because last year went fast, even though I had to sit out, so I know this year will go even faster with me playing. So I am just trying to embrace every day and have fun with it.”

Toward that goal, spring has its purpose, running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “It is critical, because he is being cross-trained at two positions,” Drayton said. “But at the same time, Jordan is a very football-savvy guy. He’s been in the fire. He’s super smart.

“It’s not an issue of missed assignments or anything like that. He understands the scheme. It’s just a matter of getting the body reps right now.”

At the same time, “we want to get him as healthy as we possibly can,” Drayton said.

Hall did little more than flirt with the position last year, due to the injuries.

“I knew everything at running back, and I’m still trying to learn this position,” he said.

The hybrid back is a lot like the position he played in high school in Jeannette, Pa., he said, when he was the all-purpose player who, as a junior, augmented the talents of quarterback Terrelle Pryor on a state-championship team in 2007. But “it’s kind of different, playing against a college defense,” Hall said.

Drayton estimated that OSU used only “about 60 percent” of the Meyer-inspired spread playbook last year because of the absence of Hall, the only player who had all the qualities necessary for the hybrid spot.

“You’re going to see the offense work in its full function now,” Drayton said. “We’re going to be able to displace defenders, get those linebackers out of the [tackle] box, maybe force the defense to change their personnel, maybe put more DBs [defensive backs] on the field as opposed to linebackers.

“You can’t home in on just the quarterback or just the running backs. … It should make life easier for the whole operation of the offense, no doubt about it.”

The next four weeks are about getting Hall up to speed. Although Dontre Wilson of DeSoto, Texas, and Jalin Marshall of Middletown are two members of the incoming recruiting class expected to add depth to the position in the fall, Hall is a veteran and a leader — the team voted him a co-captain last year.

That’s why Hall smiled when asked whether he considered this a forget-me-not spring.

“I’m not really worried about that,” he said. “I figure if I’m on the field and I have a chance to make plays, people will see it.”

Hyde almost left

Carlos Hyde was tempted to leave Ohio State for the NFL after a breakthrough 2012 season, but he decided the potential rewards of staying were greater.

“I only considered it for a couple of weeks,” Hyde said.

In the end, three main factors kept him in Columbus. He wants to earn his degree. He wants to be the first runner to gain 1,000 yards on a Meyer-coached team. He wants to win a national championship.

“I want to come back and get the 1,000 yards and raise the crystal ball,” Hyde said.

With almost everyone back on offense, an experienced secondary and a young-but-talented front seven on defense, the Buckeyes will be highly ranked in the preseason polls. Hyde will be counted on to play a crucial role. He had some big games as a sophomore in 2011 but really blossomed last year. Despite missing almost three games because of a sprained knee ligament, Hyde rushed for 970 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. In the process, he proved that a power runner can flourish in Meyer’s spread scheme.

“All I really wanted was a chance, so I could prove myself,” Hyde said. “I told myself when I got this chance that I was going to take advantage of it.”

Drayton credited Hyde’s breakthrough to maturation.

“It became more than just about Carlos,” Drayton said. “That was the difference. He cared more about his team. He became more of a teammate.

“That is definitely a direct reason he had the success he had last year.”

Hyde believes he has room for improvement.

“I want to be better at making the safety miss,” he said, adding that he’d like to lose five pounds and play at 230 pounds this year.

Hyde won’t be able to relax. The Buckeyes have depth at running back. Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn (GlenOak), Warren Ball and incoming freshman Ezekiel Elliott will push Hyde for playing time.

“I think the competition is still strong,” Meyer said, “but if he’s right and he goes like he did in certain games last year, I think he’s as good as there is in the country.”

Hyde is determined to build off his 2012 season.

“Mentally, I’m still hungry,” Hyde said. “There’s more to improve on. Some people have probably doubted me. I want to prove those people wrong.”

No news on investigation

Meyer said he couldn’t comment on the investigation into alleged misconduct involving Ohio State students. At the start of spring practice, Ohio State announced that freshman defensive lineman Se’Von Pittman was no longer on the team, for reasons believed to be related to an off-the-field matter.

“I can’t comment on any student issues, and there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know,” Meyer said.

Buckeye bits

Meyer wasn’t thrilled with practice Tuesday, although he said it was a factor that it was the first after spring break and the first in pads. … The Buckeyes used an unconventional 3-2-6 defensive alignment at times, with Curtis Grant and David Perkins as the linebackers, and Tyvis Powell and Corey Brown as the nickelbacks.

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