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Is there anything Buckeyes RB Zeke Elliott can't do?

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Inside the Program: Ezekiel Elliott (0:51)

Ezekiel Elliott sits down with Marty Smith to talk about Ohio State's rivalry with Michigan State. (0:51)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are things Ezekiel Elliott can't do.

The Ohio State running back's mother is quick to point out that he's a horrible speller and has long relied on a younger sister for assistance.

Elliott also can't make it through movies without falling asleep, most recently dozing off and snoring through the latest James Bond action-adventure while out with position coach Tony Alford and his three sons.

After struggling through a basketball game with Urban Meyer in attendance, Elliott has also been the target of abuse from the Ohio State coach for his lack of skills on the hardwood.

"First of all, I'm not a bad basketball player," a laughing Elliott said. "I'm a decent basketball player.

"But I do suck at spelling. And I do have problems staying awake at movies -- all the time, honestly. You know, they've got those reclining chairs at movie theaters now, what do they expect to happen?"

When the junior is awake and on the football field, though, good luck finding any flaws with the offensive star of the third-ranked Buckeyes.

There is perhaps no player in the nation capable of doing more things for his team than Elliott, and certainly not at any higher level than what he has delivered as part of the defense of Ohio State's national title this season. When it comes to complete football players with every possible skill that could conceivably be needed to get a job done, Elliott sits at the top of an extremely short list that leaves him no reason to crack a smile and try to mount a half-hearted defense of any potential flaws.

"One thing I have prided myself for my whole life as a football player is trying to be a master of everything," Elliott said. "That's why I go out and play every week. That's why I go out on the field. I go out there and I want to be the best player on the field. I work to be the best player in the nation, and, I mean, I believe I'm the best player in the nation.

"I don't think there's any other player in the nation that is as versatile as me, that can do as many things as well as I can and I take pride in that."

Many of them are easy to see thanks to his prolific rushing totals, his growing pile of touchdowns and expanding role as a receiving target in the backfield.

Some are hidden from view, with his role as a tireless worker on the practice field, the standard he sets in meeting rooms and his fun-loving personality making him critical behind the scenes.

Sometimes it just takes knowing where to look, since he's often every bit as impactful without the football in his hands as a devastating blocker down the field or serving as a de facto lineman at times in pass protection.

The Buckeyes count on them all equally. And they make no secret that it adds up to a Heisman Trophy-worthy package.

Human highlight reel

Alford cues up the highlight package, grabs his clicker and sits in front of the projection screen at a U-shaped table in his meeting room.

The natural place to begin the show, of course, is at the beginning of the season. And Elliott made it easy on him by giving him a perfect example of what makes him so special on the first carry of the campaign.

"Start with the obvious," Alford said as Elliott explodes through a hole on the way to a curtain-raising 80-yard touchdown at Virginia Tech. "This one here, one of the things that the kid has that I think really sets him apart, he's got great ability obviously to finish runs. At 225 pounds, he's got unbelievable speed.

"Offensive line did an excellent job, OK, there's not anyone even remotely close to him until he's 4 or 5 yards down the field. But his evaluation starts is at the second and third level, and Zeke takes that to heart. His ability to make a guy miss or run through tackles, guys never get clean shots at him. Some people will say he just has more ability than the next guy, but I disagree. This is something that's worked on."

Alford rattles through the work that Elliott does to prepare for a game-breaking rush like the one that splintered the Hokies, starting with work running through a blaster, dealing with extra defenders the Buckeyes drop in at the second level to test his elusiveness during practice, and countless hours spent trying to add more moves to his repertoire.

One after the other, Elliott's greatest hits show just about every conceivable way to avoid going to the ground as part of his 1,425-yard, 16-touchdown effort so far this season. Spin moves fade into jump cuts, which bleed into old-fashioned, pad-dropping power moves that contrast with the flashy hurdles that have become something of a trademark this season with defenders targeting his legs. And in building a case that Elliott is the top rushing threat in the country, Alford could easily stop midway through the approximately 50 plays and feel pretty good about his presentation.

But that was just Elliott with the football in his hands, which is arguably not even his most impressive work.

"Look at this poor soul," Alford said as Elliott rockets down field to wipe out a linebacker. "The kid is a violent football player. It's not natural to speed up into contact like this. Like driving a car, you don't push the accelerator when you're running into another car. You decelerate, he speeds up.

"Here's the thing, you hear about the proverbial taking a play off -- he doesn't do it. He doesn't. The kid plays every snap. You say you hand it to him 25 times in a game, throw it to him five, he should be good, right? Well, if he plays 60 snaps, 30 of them he touched it, then there's going to be another 10 or 12 where's out there looking to do something violent as hell."

Elliott doesn't usually have to look far on a football field. And when he sets his sights on a defender, misses are exceedingly rare -- and often painful for the target.

Some of Ohio State's best runs of the season have actually been sprung by Elliott blocking instead of rushing, from his two-for-one effort to help pave the way for Braxton Miller's famous spin move at Virginia Tech to his clean-up job on the way to the end zone just last week at Illinois in front of J.T. Barrett. He started his career in youth football as a fullback throwing blocks, and Elliott hasn't stopped trying to hit people since.

"Little league football, you know, you're not running the spread offense, there's not just one running back playing, you're running wishbone, wing-t offenses where running backs are blocking for other running backs," Elliott said. "The blocking part was just drilled into me at a young age. That's something I'll carry with me for the rest of my career."

There's a potentially long one ahead of him, but it could have looked far different.

Zeke Elliott: Defensive back?

Meyer watched some clips of one of his top recruiting targets at The Opening at a different position, and it confirmed an idea he had about Elliott's potential.

The Buckeyes obviously wanted to feature him at tailback, but Meyer wasn't completely sold on the fact that he could develop into a superstar at the position and had kicked around thoughts of playing him at defensive back. He wasn't alone in that, with Alford also projecting him on the other side of the ball when he was trying to land Elliott's commitment as an assistant at Notre Dame.

Elliott lining up in the secondary and promptly snagging a couple of interceptions only added some fuel to that fire, and even now the Buckeyes like to joke about all the positions he could have played other than tailback.

"I remember watching some film of him, and he could play anywhere," Meyer said between bites of a sandwich. "He could be a great tackler, too, because he's got such good explosion and acceleration. That cut block Saturday [at Illinois], he tea-kettled the guy and cut him right in half -- that's no different than tackling a guy.

"He was a good running back, but to say I thought he was this? No, I thought he was a good running back. I wouldn't say I thought we had a guy who should be a Heisman guy at running back."

Intent on playing there and following in the footsteps of his favorite player, St. Louis Rams legend Marshall Faulk, Elliott set out to prove that's where he belonged. But along the way, he kept showing the traits that made him a candidate to play other spots and continually became more useful for the Buckeyes in the process.

Where Ohio State used to need to substitute an extra tight end to block at the point of attack for a perimeter rush, Elliott's ability to blow up potential tacklers made that unnecessary. Once his wrist healed after two surgeries last year and he could catch the ball without limitations again, the Buckeyes started splitting him out as a wide receiver on occasion to make matching up with their personnel more difficult. Any running back is going to be called on to pick up blitzes, but few seem to relish the opportunity to point out a pass rusher, set his feet like a lineman and establish the edge of the pocket like Elliott.

"I think he should have been an offensive lineman," left tackle Taylor Decker said. "He loves blocking, I mean you all see him kill people on blocks. Unfortunately he has to be a running back, so we'll deal with it.

"But he can do it all."

The only thing that could be missing is a strong throwing arm, and if there's a weakness he's willing to admit, that might be it for Elliott.

But even then he reflects back to his high-school days and remembers throwing a couple of halfback passes for touchdowns, and suddenly he's itching for an opportunity to prove he can do that, too.

"I think I can play all over the field," Elliott said. "I think I can play defensive back, I think I could play linebacker, I think I could play receiver if I had to.

"I don't have the best arm, but I'm trying to get Coach Meyer to let me throw a pass."

'He is as good of a football player as there is'

The chance to throw the football might not arrive, but Meyer is willing to give Elliott something he's typically cautious about handing out.

Thanks to his laser focus on his own team and the upcoming opponents, Meyer usually avoids discussing national awards for much of the season in order to be fair to candidates he might not have seen in action. But Meyer has been around enough Heisman Trophy candidates in his career to know when he sees them, and Elliott fits the bill along with previous guys like Alex Smith at Utah, Braxton Miller and Barrett with Ohio State and, of course, Tim Tebow at Florida. All of them at some point have earned Meyer's endorsement, and now it's Elliott's turn.

"No question, no question," Meyer said. "Now I don't know enough to really say that he should win it, because I don't know the other backs. But I've been fortunate to be around some Heisman-caliber players, and the Heisman is for the best football player and what he does for his team. There's no question. What he does for his team, the skill set, the best blocker, one of the best runners -- I know there are some good runners -- and then he's the most selfless guy. That's Zeke.

"That's a strong statement, but he is as good of a football player as there is."

The lack of distinction between running back and football player is notable, and it's almost certainly not made by accident when it comes to Elliott given all the ways he contributes for Ohio State.

Off the field, Elliott is no more perfect than anybody else, dozing when the theater-lights dim and leaning on spellcheck to clean up a few errors. But once those pads come on? Any potential flaws are hard to find, and even closer inspection of his game might actually lend itself to a greater appreciation of the depth of his talents.

"I think some people do overlook some things, but one thing I've learned is that you can't worry about things you can't control," Elliott said. "If you just focus on going out there and having fun and winning football games, that's the most important part and good things will come with that.

"I just want to go out and be a guy who can be relied to go out and do anything to win a football game. No matter when your number is called, no matter what they want you to do, you want to be able to step out there and get the job done."

Elliott doesn't need a jump shot to do that anyway.