By now I imagine that just about every Buckeye fan has heard the bad news that Jordan Hall cut his foot badly enough to require surgery. Doctors suggest that Hall will be out of commission for about ten weeks, which means that the earliest Jordan is expected back would be for the third game of the 2012 season. Those who are overly optimistic are shrugging their shoulders since the first two games of the year are usually fairly easy (although this season's week two opponent is UCF and they should not be taken lightly). In a perfect world, Ohio State would breeze through the first two games, Hall would return to duty, and all would be good. But we don't live in a perfect world, in case you haven't noticed!
Now call me negative (and I do live by the mantra, "There is no such thing as a disappointed pessimist"), but I doubt Hall is back that quickly. I guess you could say that there are too many times in the past when I have heard that a player will be back by "such and such a date", only to be disappointed. I can think back all the way to Keith Byars, who was the favorite to win the Heisman his senior year in 1985. After an off-season injury, we kept hearing that he would be back "In time for the season opener", then "by the first Big Ten game", and so on. Byars did eventually return, but after carrying the ball 313 times as a junior, he managed all of 53 carries as a senior, and was never 100% that season. I could list many other stories, including Nathan Williams, who was originally supposed to return to action last year. Now we aren't even sure if he will play this year. So, count me as a pessimist when it comes to Jordan Hall and 2012. While he may return by game three, I wonder if he will really be healthy. Will he try and return too soon, and have a setback? Will he be in "football shape" when he does return? Those are all questions that I would ask. So, playing "worst case scenario" for a few mintes lets talk about the long-term effects of Hall's injury, and who might be expected to step up in his place.
The first question should not be too difficult as Ohio State almost always has a stable of running backs. Truth is, most observers of the 2012 edition of the team have noted that Carlos Hyde is the best back the team has - period. He is not only big, at 235 pounds, but also the fastest running back on the squad, reportedly clocking a 4.4 40. While Hyde is not known for his cutting, he did show the ability to make some big runs last year, and seemed to improve in regard to vision as the year progressed. He wound up with 566 yards, and his 5.3 per carry average was the best on the team. Insiders have said that Meyer covets a big back with home run ability, and he has that in Hyde. Look for him to have a big season.
Behind him, true freshman Bri'onte Dunn looked impressive in the spring, and also brings nice size and speed to the table. Many people have speculated that Dunn could eventually become the "bell-cow" this season, and while I don't look for that to occur, I do think he will be a nice change of pace, and get plenty of carries. And the cupboard is far from bare after that, as Meyer can turn to highly recruited sophomore Rod Smith or incoming freshman Warren Ball. Personally, I think all of them can play and be good B1G backs, but once again, none brings the shiftiness of Hall.
Question two might be a little more tricky since Ohio State is not as loaded at receiver, and it takes a special kind of player to excel in the slot. If Hall is uanble to play, the top candidate would be Corey "Philly" Brown, who is explosive with the ball in his hands. He figured to play the "pivot" some anyway, along with splitting out wide. Now, he may be the main man, at least until Hall can return. Outside of Brown, I think the best candidate might be Verlon Reed, who played quarterback in high school, and loves to run with the ball in his hands. He isn't as fast or shifty as Brown or Hall, but has the skills to do well at a postion that combines pass catching and rushing. Others could emerge, but those would be my top picks.
The place where Hall might be missed the most is special teams where he has done well as both a punt and kick returner. Having a veteran to handle punts is a nice luxury, and Hall has proved that he can make people miss and come up with some big returns. The top candidates to replace him here would seem to be Philly Brown and Chris Fields (if he gets back in the good graces of the coaches). Both have some experience in this department, and Fields actually took a punt return to the house early in 2011. Guys like Hyde, Dunn and Devin Smith might also factor in here. As I have said, this is a place where Hall could really be missed.
At Ohio State there is always depth, and even guys on the third team were highly recruited out of high school. However, Jordan Hall has leadership ability, experience, and talent that will be greatly missed if he is unable to return for an extended period of time. Let's hope for the best!