COLUMBUS – The comparisons to Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde used to be heavier. So was Mike Weber.
Weber, a redshirt freshman running back for Ohio State, carries the expectations of being the guy who will replace Ezekiel Elliott, who finished his career second only to Archie Griffin on the career rushing list at OSU.
Weber’s running style – he calls it “running downhill” – is probably more reminiscent of Hyde, who gained 1,521 yards in 2013.
Elliott was drafted No. 4 overall by the Dallas Cowboys this year. He rushed for 1,821 yards last season and 1,878 yards in 2014. Hyde was a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2014.
While coach Urban Meyer has not yet made it official Weber will start, it appears Ohio State doesn’t have much in the way of reinforcements behind him if it wants to use the power running game that worked so well with Elliott and Hyde.
OSU’s other top running back, Curtis Samuel, is known more for his speed and pass catching than for running inside. And senior Bri’onte Dunn was thrown off the team in July.
On Monday, Meyer said Weber had “not yet” earned a starting spot. But that seal of approval could be coming soon.
There was some drama in how Weber got to Ohio State. He de-committed from Michigan after Brady Hoke was fired, signed with Ohio State, then spent a few unhappy days when running backs coach Stan Drayton took a job with the Chicago Bears one day after national signing day.
After any hurt feelings were smoothed over, he was impressive in preseason training camp before he suffered a torn meniscus that led to him being redshirted in 2015.
Even in a year when he didn’t play, the 5-10, 212-pound Weber heard comparisons.
“I know people compare me to recent backs we’ve had here. I used to think about trying to live up to the standards we have here. But, really, now I’m just focused on being myself,” he said.
What he might show Ohio State fans this year is a better version of himself. Weber dropped 18 pounds in the offseason.
“There were a lot of things I had to give up. But if you want to be that good or that great, it’s worth it,” Weber said.
He posted pictures to social media to show the changes he has made.
“I am at a good weight and I can move a lot better,” Weber said. “I worked really hard and the results show in the pictures.”
One of the people who noticed was Meyer.
“I saw his little post of his before picture and after picture,” he said at the Big Ten media days in July. “A little fat kid that turns into a good looking running back. You can tell him that I said that too,” he said.
It was probably no accident that Weber’s offseason workout partners were team leaders J.T. Barrett, Pat Elflein and Billy Price.
“At the beginning, I was a little resistant. J.T. kind of changed my mindset because I want to be great. I was kind of immature last year, kind of had a high school mindset. I’m glad the older guys kind of took me under their wing. I’ve come a long way and I’m hoping to have a big season,” Weber said.
“Last year I was kind of running around with my head cut off. I didn’t know too much, just get the ball and run. This year I’m more of a guy who knows what’s going on. It should be a fun year.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.