Speed isn’t something that can be taught. Usain Bolt trains harder than most people, but if it weren’t for his natural talents, you likely wouldn’t know him as the fastest man in the world.
For the Ohio State football team — and coach Urban Meyer’s offensive system — to work effectively, someone with this natural ability was needed.
Enter sophomore running back Dontre Wilson.
Although Wilson saw time during his freshman year as a change-of-pace running back, who would beat defenders around the corner on kickoffs and quick dump-off passes, it wasn’t in the position Meyer first envisioned for Wilson when he recruited him.
Now with a season under his belt in Meyer’s system, Wilson is primed to step in as the Buckeyes’ H-back, the flex spot the offense needs for that extra element.
“He’s a starting H,” Meyer said Tuesday. “He took (wide receiver Corey) ‘Philly’ Brown’s spot, so he’s a full-time receiver. We did take him today and put him in some backfield action. We use that term, (Seattle Seahawks wide receiver) Percy Harvin, very loosely, because there’s only probably one of him. But we’d like (it if) that hybrid position is really a key guy if we can do that … by far, Dontre’s the No. 1 spot.
“He’s the starting H at Ohio State.”
The H-back is a hybrid position that is capable of running out of the slot as a wide receiver while offering a threat rushing the ball around corners. The position made famous by Harvin, who played under Meyer at Florida.
Last season Wilson finished fifth on the team in receiving yards and sixth on the team in rushing yards, as a part of the running back corps.
But offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said Wilson has moved to more of a wide receiver role from last season, and has continued learning the offense in the process.
“He couldn’t play receiver last year, he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. Didn’t know how to do it,” Herman said Tuesday. “He was 175 pounds or whatever the heck he was. So him and his ability limited us, and ability doesn’t just include running fast and making guys miss. There’s a lot that goes into ability and usability in the offense. (He) has had a great offseason and really took to the position and is still learning.”
But despite the growth of the young player, Herman said there are still mistakes that need to be ironed out as Wilson continues his transition to H-back.
“He still makes mistakes that you wish he wouldn’t at this stage in his career. But at the end of the day, he’s played tailback his entire life and to move him into this hybrid role, he hadn’t been doing it very long,” Herman said. “He wasn’t an early enrollee last year. He didn’t get here until August or June … so he’s progressing, and he’s gotten stronger and bigger and learned technique. So the ability, his usability, continues to rise with every step he takes in terms of learning how to play the position.”
Even from the start of his career at OSU, Wilson was not scared of the spotlight, spending all season as one of the starting kick returners alongside former running back Jordan Hall.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton said that sort of confidence is what will help Wilson thrive as a football player.
“He knows what he’s doing, he’s starting to really take ownership of that position, he’s asking the right questions,” Drayton said March 20. “The one thing about Dontre, Dontre walked through the door with a mentality, he ain’t scared of anything now. He is not a shy person at all, he will ask a dumb question and not feel bad about it and we encourage that … So as long as he keeps that mindset, he’s going to continue to grow as a football player and because of that, he has.”
Meyer said having Wilson, along with other speedy players like redshirt-freshman wide receiver Jalin Marshall, to pass the ball quickly to will be vital for an inexperienced offensive line that is losing four starters.
“That’s where the Dontres and Jalin Marshalls (take) little bubble screens,” Meyer said. “We’re going to have to take the pressure … We’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs and all that where, last year, when you rushed for 300 yards in a game, it’s because (of) that offensive line. We have other weapons. It will be a difficult little taste to it than what we had last year.”
Wilson and the Buckeyes are set to take the field Aug. 30 against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.