- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was a time when cutting Carlos Hyde some slack on the practice field would have been unthinkable, and it wasn’t all that long ago.
With the running back perhaps not in the finest shape and somewhat easily fatigued, Ohio State could use every rep available to it to try to get him ready for a heavy workload.
Maybe not the most mature guy on the roster, the Buckeyes also might have needed to keep him involved in the offense as much as possible just to keep his confidence at a reasonable level.
Even after a successful season as a junior, which included his first significant opportunity to be the featured tailback, there was also the threat of Hyde slipping back into a comfort zone and resting on his laurels.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton has been around long enough to know all those things about Hyde, and somewhere in the back of Drayton's mind they might have nagged at him a bit, as the Buckeyes decided to keep the starter largely on the sideline during live work this spring as they evaluated options behind him. But Drayton never wavered, Hyde never complained, and there might not be a clearer example of how far the senior’s reputation has come than how little management was necessary in a camp that was productive even when he didn’t have the football in his hands.
“You know, he does have a complacent bone in him,” Drayton said. “I cannot underestimate that, but I haven’t seen it in a long time. I’m hoping that it’s gone forever.
“I’ll tell you, he’s getting to the point where his psyche is not easily killed. At some point you have to sit down with a senior and have real man-to-man, face-to-face conversations about where you are and where you need to be. ... Maturity proves itself on how you go about improving those weaknesses, even when I’m not watching.”
The Buckeyes needed to devote more time to watching the backups than Hyde this spring, and in turn the veteran was forced to turn his attention to his younger teammates throughout workouts, effectively serving as a coach.
That Hyde could handle the responsibility of watching reps without taking many or that he would offer pointers to guys who could conceivably chip away at his carries reflects the increased faith the Buckeyes have in him. But that Hyde was also more than willing to take on that role reinforces some of the changes he has made heading into his last season with the program, validating himself as more than just an integral part of the rushing attack in the process.
“It’s just me getting older,” Hyde said during camp. “Last year kind of matured me, too, and I’m just getting older and learning the game better.
“I feel like mentally I’m still hungry. I feel like there’s still more to improve on, and I feel like people probably still have doubts about me and I want to prove those people wrong.”
There wasn’t much he needed to show on the field during spring practice after rushing for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns last fall, and the Buckeyes had no concerns about limiting him during some full-contact situations in workouts or holding him out entirely from the spring game.
That doesn’t mean Hyde is a finished product, and he’s the first to admit he can become a more elusive runner to break a few longer runs and that his pass protection can be improved as well. It also doesn’t mean Drayton stopped paying attention to Hyde's handling of his new responsibilities -- but there were at least some aspects of his game that no longer required as much monitoring.
“He wants to play, he wants to practice and I love him for that,” Drayton said. “He can be a pain in the butt out there, but I told him in our individual meeting, 'I didn’t know you had that in you.' I thought he hated practice. I thought he was one of those guys that kind of fatigued early.
“But now he’s got some endurance, he’s got some confidence about him and I was really excited to see how bad he really wanted to practice, play, the whole deal. ... I don’t want him to feel like he’s there, because he’s not there. But he’s definitely heading in the right direction.”
At this point in his career, Hyde didn’t even need a football to prove it.