COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With 1,000-yard rusher Mike Weber slowed by a hamstring tweak, true freshman J.K. Dobbins is getting a lot of carries and a majority of the buzz at Ohio State training camp.
The La Grange, Texas, native, an early enrollee who participated in spring practice, was the first freshman to lose the black stripe from his helmet, signifying that he is now a full-fledged Buckeye. At the first scrimmage on Saturday, Dobbins was rated a "champion," the highest grade a player can get from the coaching staff. That doesn't happen often for a freshman.
"It's still early to anoint anybody, but he's one of the freshmen who will play this year," coach Urban Meyer said Monday.
Weber, who became just the third Ohio State freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, hasn't been able to go full speed yet.
"He practiced (Monday)," Meyer said. "He didn't open it up yet, but he'll be ready for game one. We're just being cautious. Hamstrings are just something you really have to watch."
Meyer said he's been impressed by the play of all the running backs, including Antonio Williams and Demario McCall, who has seen some time at the hybrid H-back slot.
DEEP DEFENSIVE LINE
Ohio State's talent and depth on the defensive line is ridiculous.
The unit would have been good even without reigning Big Ten defensive linemen of the year Tyquan Lewis deciding to return for his senior year.
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano told the Big Ten Network on Saturday that the D-line is better than the one he coached with the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012-2013.
"It is, and that's not a joke," Schiano said. "We had a great player in Tampa in Gerald McCoy. Tremendous player, but that was one guy. I go back to my days in Miami in '99 and 2000 and this is clearly a better group."
Besides Lewis, Ohio State has elite ends Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa, and interior guys Robert Landers, DreMont Jones, Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle, the latter returning from a knee injury suffered in the first game of the season last year. Some freshmen likely will get some playing time, too.
Hill has been suspended for at least the opening game for an unspecified violation of team rules, Meyer said.
DIXON IS LIKELY STARTER AT WR
Meyer said wide receiver Johnnie Dixon is close to being named a starter for the opening game. That will be a first for the junior, who has been plagued by knee injuries since his high school days.
"We make a big deal around here of calling the families and telling them to go buy your airline tickets to come watch your son play at Ohio State," Meyer said. "And he's within a week of probably getting that phone call."
BUILDING AN ELITE PROGRAM
Meyer said planning for players departing early for the NFL and still winning consistently is the toughest issue an elite program faces these days.
Meyer was asked if he was satisfied with whether he's built a consistent program at Ohio State that can withstand the revolving door of star players:
"We haven't won enough championships, but we're consistently in the conversation, the hunt in November," he said. "That's our goal. Ohio State should be. What I think has happened here is that when 15 juniors leave, you can still field a decent team in two years, that's hats off to (performance) coach (Mickey) Marotti and his support staff. To me, that's the hardest thing that we're dealing with is plugging holes and maybe playing guys before they're ready, and that's the sign of a good program."
Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy