- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The medical redshirt already assured a do-over of Jordan Hall’s final season with the Ohio State program.
Now it appears he’ll get a mulligan at the starting position that a pair of injuries cost the veteran a year ago.
After watching Carlos Hyde cement himself as the leading option in the backfield while he was on the shelf, then spending spring practice largely focusing on learning the playbook at the hybrid H-back position and working out with receivers, reclaiming the job that was once expected to be Hall’s never looked like much of an option.
But here he is now, once again listed as a senior and apparently on top of the depth chart at running back as well.
“I’ll play anywhere they put me, because I just want to be on the field and help us win,” Hall said. “It doesn’t matter. Anywhere they put me, I’ll be ready.”
The Buckeyes always had designs on putting Hall in the backfield at least part of the time again as he cross-trained between running back and the versatile H-back spot that requires more work in the passing game. But for the second summer in a row, the early-season plan may have required a bit of flexibility.
Last summer it was Hall’s fluky injury when he stepped on a piece of glass and needed surgery to repair a torn tendon, leaving him on the sideline during training camp and the first two games while Hyde slid into the vacant first-team spot. Hall briefly returned to the lineup before a knee issue knocked him out for the rest of the season, ultimately allowing Hyde to prove he could thrive as an every-down back and form a lethal combination with quarterback Braxton Miller on the ground.
This summer it’s Hyde’s offseason incident at a Columbus bar and a minimum suspension of three games that has shaken up the expected pecking order. And while the Buckeyes have no shortage of talented tailbacks capable of picking up the slack at one of the deepest positions on the roster, at least for now they appear willing to turn back the clock and give a healthy Hall the shot he never really had last year.
“Jordan Hall is a guy who has had some playing experience and been through some adversity, obviously, but he does have some game experience,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “You’ve got Rod Smith who is in that group, those two would be at the early part of the season kind of taking the bull by the horns. But for that first game, probably Jordan Hall.
“Going into this first game, I’d say he’s probably the No. 1 guy right now.”
That list is always subject to change, particularly at a position as loaded as running back.
Smith figures to get plenty of touches over the first few weeks given his impressive set of skills and dynamic athleticism. Bri’onte Dunn got his feet wet last season and has shown flashes of being a steady contributor in the backfield, and both redshirt freshman Warren Ball and newcomer Ezekiel Elliott have impressed during training camp. Ultimately Hyde will be back on the field as well, and his production in the spread offense is well documented.
But the rise of those rushers wouldn’t necessarily be a threat to Hall, who Drayton indicated was tabbed all along to spend time in his meeting room and will continue to work at both positions throughout the season even if he does emerge as the weapon at H-back Ohio State has been waiting for.
And Hall won’t complain either way as he tries to make the most of a second chance at a senior season, regardless of where he lines up.
“I’ve seen how fast it can be taken away,” Hall said. “So I’m not going to take any plays off, any reps off.”
All the Buckeyes have to do is tell him where to take them.
16hSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson