With the mass exodus of talent leaving for the NFL draft, the Ohio State Buckeyes football team will feature a number of underclassmen in 2016. None, however, will have a bigger void to fill than running back Mike Weber, who's primed to step in for All-American Ezekiel Elliott.
The 5'10", 215-pound bruiser committed to Ohio State on national signing day last February, spurning Jim Harbaugh and the home-state Michigan Wolverines.
He was one of the most coveted running backs in the country—a high 4-star prospect who ran for 2,268 yards and 29 touchdowns (averaging 10.1 yards per carry) despite playing in just 10 games as a senior, according to Ohio State's official website.
He brought that bruising running style with him to Columbus when he reported for fall camp, and he made an instant impact on a team brimming with talent.
With Curtis Samuel's transition to wide receiver, the spot behind Elliott on the depth chart was wide open. There was Bri'onte Dunn, a redshirt junior who's played sparingly at Ohio State, and Warren Ball, who's seen very little game action during his three years in Columbus.
Weber didn't waste any time and immediately caught the attention of his teammates and coaches.
He showcased his toughness and explosiveness, both of which were on display during a scrimmage in fall camp, when he said he ran the ball 15 times for nearly 200 yards with "a few touchdowns," according to Dave Biddle of 247Sports.
Everything was setting up for Weber to make his college football debut as Elliott's backup in 2015. He had his "black stripe" removed in fall camp—a tradition that signifies a freshman is ready to officially join the team—three weeks before the opener at Virginia Tech.
But three days later, Weber suffered a torn meniscus in his knee that required surgery. He was expected to return after a four-week recovery, but with the nagging injury and Elliott's ability to carry the load, Weber took a redshirt and sat the season out.
Behind the scenes, though, Weber was still working hard and continued to improve.
I started off really good. I kind of caught on to the college speed of the game really quick and was basically running the ball really good. The injury slowed me down a little bit. It kind of set me back this whole year and maybe pushed me toward a redshirt.
But if I had to do it again, I'd be a redshirt because I learned from Zeke and the guys in front of me. I just sat back and watched those guys. I am just going to let it all loose next year.
The Buckeyes will need him to let it loose in an offense that has to replace eight starters next year. But Weber won't be bringing the elusiveness and breakaway speed that Elliott gave Ohio State's offense over the last two years.
Weber's running style more closely resembles that of Carlos Hyde, whom Elliott replaced after two dominant seasons in 2012 and 2013.
In fact, he looks so similar to Hyde—who ran for 2,491 yards and 31 touchdowns in Urban Meyer's offense—that teammates are calling him "'Baby 'Los,' Carlos Hyde," according to Eleven Warriors' Eric Seger.
If Weber can capitalize on his potential in 2016, then Ohio State's next great running back is on the verge of his breakout season.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information via 247Sports.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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