"It's definitely up for grabs."
That was Ezekiel Elliott, the soon-to-be sophomore running back, talking about the starting role that's opening up in Ohio State's backfield.
That role, voided by Carlos Hyde, produced 1,668 total yards and 18 touchdowns in just 11 games last season. Hyde averaged an impressive 7.3 yards per carry, providing a safety net that Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes need to replace.
But how do you replace one of the most productive running backs in school history?
That process starts in the spring when a group of running backs, highlighted by Elliott, compete for that coveted starting spot.
"We have four backs coming back next year," Elliott said, per Zack Meisel of The Plain Dealer. "We're going to compete and just have to work hard through spring practice."
The three other candidates—Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball—don't have the momentum Elliott built in 2013.
The 6'0", 218-pound standout piled up 262 yards and two touchdowns on just 30 carries, which was more than twice the yardage Smith produced with a nearly equal workload. Elliott also caught three passes for 23 yards and another score, separating himself in a crowded backfield down the stretch.
While he didn't get playing time on a consistent basis, making appearances in just seven of the Buckeyes' 14 games, his brief time on the field suggested a change of pace could be in the works for Ohio State's offense.
At 6'0" and 235 pounds, Hyde was a bruising running back who thrived at getting the tough yards in traffic. While Elliott is no stranger to contact, his most dangerous asset is his game-breaking speed, which is something Hyde lacked.
Pairing that speed in a backfield with Braxton Miller at quarterback should lead to special things for Meyer's offense.
Stacy Elliott, the father of the young running back, told Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer that the 2013 season was tough because of the limited playing time his son received.
I believe at times Ezekiel may get a little frustrated because he hasn't played more, but I also believe that Ezekiel is patient enough and understands that his time is coming. I am excited about what I am hearing from Ezekiel and what I am seeing. The future looks bright.
The future is now for Elliott, and if his father is right, Ohio State will have a much easier time replacing Hyde.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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