- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice in the books and Ohio State heading into its offseason conditioning program, BuckeyeNation is looking at the players who boosted their stock with the program the most during those 15 workouts. The offense will go first this week, followed by a handful of defenders who will be in line for heavy workloads this fall as well.
No. 2: Rod Smith
Who: All the pieces are there for a dynamic running back, but Rod Smith has yet to ever put them all together and unleash all the potential that Ohio State has seen on the practice field. But heading into his junior season, Smith is finally showing signs of figuring out that puzzle and unlocking even more possibilities for the Buckeyes on offense. Carlos Hyde is still the top choice in the backfield, and that isn't likely to change as long as the senior is healthy. But if Smith rushes with the sense of urgency he showed before his spring ended prematurely, if he continues to absorb the responsibilities lined out for him in the playbook and, most important, if Smith is able to protect the football, there will be plenty for him to do in the fall.
Spring progress: The Buckeyes gave Hyde a number of reps off in the spring to get a better look at the candidates for carries behind him, putting Smith in position to show what he could do if he were needed on the first-team offense. He responded with some explosive gains, flashing the speed that makes him a home run threat while still being an option between the tackles at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds. There have never been doubts about his physical skills, though, and it's an improved ability to embrace competition and lock in focus on the practice field and in meeting rooms that should enable Smith to reach a higher level.
Jockeying for position: Smith wasn't going to unseat Hyde in the spring, but Smith's extra reps helped him separate from backups Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn and establish himself as the No. 2 guy in the rotation, even though he missed the last week of camp dealing with a concussion.
He said it: "We went into this spring with a certain emphasis in mind. We were going to work on certain things, and Carlos had really proved with those things that he was very capable in game situations. He's battle-tested, so it was time to develop some younger guys. ... Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith have separated themselves." -- running backs coach Stan Drayton
Closing number: A concussion suffered during a scrimmage the week before the spring game kept Smith out of the final week of practice and the closing exhibition game in Cincinnati, but that didn't cause him to give up any ground after getting 32 carries and gaining 215 yards with two touchdowns last fall.
2dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy