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COLUMBUS - When fall practice opened last week, the first order of business for Ohio State running backs coach Dick Tressel might have been finding a bigger meeting room. The Buckeyes are so deep at the critical position that the elder Tressel has a difficult but wonderful numbers problem.
Ohio State returns co-starters Brandon Saine and Dan "Boom" Herron from last year's Rose Bowl championship team. Add sophomore Jordan Hall, redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry, freshman Carlos Hyde, junior Bo DeLande, and freshman Rod Smith to the tailback confab, and you see Tressel's concern about the fire marshall showing up.
Tressel's younger brother Jim, the Buckeyes' head coach, thinks it is a thoroughly delightful predicament.
"I've said this before - you can never have too many tailbacks - and that is still the case," the OSU head coach said. "It looks like a lot, but then if you have a guy turn an ankle here, then another has an issue of some kind, and all of a sudden the picture has changed. But it's nice to go into camp with a bunch of capable guys back there, that's for certain."
Smith is the only one in the group not yet on the field. The highly touted recruit from Fort Wayne has apparently worked out some 11th hour academic issues, but the paperwork is not yet in place to allow him to join his teammates, who started full contact at the Harmon Family Football Park practice facility next to the Woody Hayes Athletics Center in Tuesday's heat and humidity.
Saine (6-foot-1, 220 pounds), who was an Ohio high school sprinting champion and the state's Mr. Football before joining the Buckeyes, had 739 yards rushing last season, caught 17 passes for another 224 yards, and scored six touchdowns. He looks like Ohio State's first option, but the senior from Piqua said no one can be certain how the pecking order will be set once pre-season camp ends and the Buckeyes open 2010 against Marshall on Sept. 2.
"There's a long ways to go, and with so many good runners back there, the competition is going to be intense," Saine said. "But that is only going to make all of us better. We're friends, but we push each other every day."
Herron had 600 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns last season. He is a junior and at 5-10 and 205 pounds earns his nickname by pounding out the tough inside yardage.
"I think Brandon and I are a little different style of runners, but we both get the job done," Herron said. "I think we're capable of being very good at the tailback position because we have a lot of talented guys. We all add something to the offense."
Hall (5-9, 195), who comes from the same Pennsylvania high school as Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, didn't get a lot of opportunities last season as a freshman, but made the most of them with 248 rushing yards.
Berry (5-10, 200) was one of the most talked about recruits in 2009, but a persistent hamstring injury kept him off the field and he sat out last season. He has shown glimpses of the explosiveness and quickness that made him one of the most coveted running backs in the country two years ago.
Hyde (6-0, 235) enrolled in January and gained some familiarity with the offense in spring ball. He spent last season at Fork Union Military Academy after a 1,600 yard year as a high school senior in Naples, Fla. in 2008.
DeLande (5-11, 195) is a junior who has been primarily a special teams workhorse. Smith (6-3, 225) had 1,855 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior, and 6,625 yards and 66 touchdowns in his high school career.
"I think it's fair to say we're loaded up at running back, and that's a great thing, because no matter what we're trying to do on offense, we still need to run the football effectively," OSU senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.
"There's a lot of talent and a lot of depth, and I think you even have to include Terrelle in that group when you're talking about our running game, because he is such a threat to break one every time he rolls out."
Pryor led the Buckeyes with 779 yards rushing last season, when the Buckeyes went 11-2 and won a fifth straight Big Ten championship.
"We have a lot of options, both running and passing the football," Saine said. "It's going to be exciting to see how this offense can continue to develop during camp."
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