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How will Ohio State replace Ezekiel Elliott? Urban Meyer has options

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Only one thing is certain in Ohio State’s backfield: Bri'onte Dunn won’t be a part of it.

The rest of the picture is becoming a bit clearer for the Buckeyes, starting with Mike Weber’s likely elevation into the role of primary rusher, Curtis Samuel’s involvement as a multipurpose weapon and the depth chart shaking out behind the front-line guys. As the Buckeyes make the final preparations for what should be a fascinating training camp, Dunn’s permanent dismissal was essentially the only definitive statement Urban Meyer could make when it comes to his running backs and the effort to replace superstar Ezekiel Elliott.

“There's no chance that Bri'onte will come back,” Meyer said. “So depth is a concern. You want four bodies in the tailback position, and I count Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel in the mix. So we have Demario McCall, Antonio Williams and obviously Mike Weber. So that is a concern.

"Because that's a very physical position, how we manage practice and how many times we have Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel get hit throughout training camp, those are all things remaining to be seen. But I'll watch it very closely.”

Meyer has no shortage of position battles to watch when the Buckeyes report for practice in early August, but the tailbacks will be near the top of the list, considering how crucial they are for his power-spread offense. That process will obviously revolve around establishing a clear pecking order among his inexperienced but certainly talented candidates. Meyer will also try to figure out if Ohio State is going to be able to rely on one workhorse, as he had with the do-it-all Elliott and the tireless Carlos Hyde before that, or if he’ll need to sort out a committee approach to handle the various responsibilities in the backfield.

Weber is a safe bet to appear on the top of the depth chart when camp opens, and Meyer toed the line of assuring that when he said he “anticipated” that the redshirt freshman would be the starter. It’s possible Weber, a four-star recruit, might have claimed that job next month anyway, but the dismissal of Dunn for a violation of team rules probably cinched it after a neck-and-neck battle in spring practice. The loss of Dunn, however, cut down on Meyer’s options for the ground game and will likely lead to either a part-time return to tailback for wide receiver Samuel or a larger role for true freshman Williams -- or maybe both.

The coaching staff has raved about Williams since he enrolled early and took part in practices in March and April. Samuel’s versatility not only makes him the kind of weapon Meyer covets for his attack, but in this case, it also provides some immediate relief at a position that might be a bit thinner than the Buckeyes would like.

“Even before [Dunn was dismissed], I saw that,” Meyer said of Samuel’s chances of getting involved as a running back again. “In my mind, he’s one of the top two, three playmakers on our team. He’ll get the ball, and he’s got to stay healthy.”

How much Samuel will touch the football remains to be seen. As with just about everything else in the rushing game, basically nothing is guaranteed at this point. Dunn is gone. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is obviously going to continue to be involved as a threat to run himself. But the rest is still to be determined, even though Meyer appears to have a decent idea of what might happen by September.

“I think [Weber] was in the mindset he was going to get that job during spring and in the summer,” Meyer said. “I think with any athlete, if you see someone like a Zeke in front of you, it’s human nature to not quite go as hard and understand that no matter what you do, you’re not going to beat that guy out.

“But I love where he's at, as far as what kind of physical condition he's in. I saw his little [Twitter] post of his before picture and his after picture. A little fat kid turned into a good-looking running back. You can tell him I said that too.”

It’s still to early to tell the Buckeyes anything else official at running back.