In the past couple of years, Iowa has been plagued by a plethora of running back injuries. 7 running backs have gotten a serious injury or have left the program entirely since 2011.
To explain this bizarre stat, some fans, (most notably, the writers at blackheartgoldpants.com) created the entity Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God (AIRBHG.) They have blamed the past seasons dearth at the running back position on the deity. Since 2001, there has only been one season by a running back without injury or suspension, and that was the season when Shonn Greene won the Doak Walker Award for the best running back in the nation, showing what an Iowa running back can do when healthy.
This year is a little different than some in the past as instead of this being a position of need and worry; this is a position of strength. People are expecting these running backs to carry the offense. Right now, and this is likely to change based on how AIRBHG operates, Iowa has 9 running backs on scholarship. This preview will look at the players expected to carry this offense.
Mark Weisman (#45, Senior (RS), 6-feet, 240 pounds, Stevenson HS (Buffalo Grove, IL))
Mark Weisman went to Air Force for his first year in college and didn’t play a snap. He decided that he wasn’t a good fit for the Air Force life and transferred. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz quickly welcomed him to the Iowa football program and right away he beat out the returning starter for fullback. He was touted by the coaching staff as a great blocker and could carry the ball well if needed.
At Iowa, the fullbacks carry the ball around 10 times during a whole season, so there weren’t high expectations for him. Then, the Northern Iowa game happened. The third game of that 2012 season, the starting and backup running backs got injured. Instead of putting in the third string, Ferentz gambled and threw in Weisman. Weisman ran for 113 yards and 3 touchdowns in that game. The next game he put up a crazy 8 yards per carry, with 217 yards on 27 carries. He improved on that with 8.4 yards per carry in the next game. Then against Michigan State he rushed for over 100 yards once again but got injured. He was injured the rest of the season, but played through it. He was never as effective as he only managed a total of 193 yards after he got injured.
In the 2013 season, he was the workhouse from the beginning as he averaged 28 carries over the first 3 games. He had over 100 yards in 4 of the first 5 games. Then against Michigan State he once again got injured, this time with a sprained ankle. He ended up with 9 yards on 7 carries. After that game, Weisman’s production never matched what he put forth at the start of the season as he failed to gain over 100 yards in any of the remaining games and only averaged more than 5 yards a carry in two of them.
The coaches acknowledged after the season they wore Weisman down too early. They said that they are going to spread the carries around more this season.
Even though he switched positions from fullback to running back in 2012, he still plays like a fullback. He gets the ball, sees the hole, runs through it, and falls forward. There is no juking, no slashes, no cut backs, there is just downhill running. Honestly, I don’t know if he has ever made a guy miss, he just tries to run through every tackler. He relishes the contact.
With Weisman’s style, he will probably be banged up by the end of the season but he will be exciting to watch. Expect around 900 yards and 10 touchdowns but with the yards more evenly spread out. He will have a huge start of the season, but Iowa won’t be relying on him as much so he will be able to last longer into the season.
Jordan Canzeri (#33, Junior (RS), 5-foot-9, 192 pounds, Troy (NY) HS)
Jordan Canzeri is the complete opposite of Weisman. Where Weisman looks to punish whoever he is going up against, Canzeri tries to juke or outrun the opposition. Weisman hits the hole and doesn’t look back; Canzeri looks for cut backs and is more of a slashing type of runner. These two running backs give the Hawkeyes a very formidable duo. Unlike Weisman, Canzeri barely played at the start of the season. Then, later in the season, Canzeri caught fire and helped bring life to a struggling running game. He averaged over 8 yards a carry in 3 out of the last 5 games with 165 yards against Purdue.
The coaches list Weisman and Canzeri as co-starters and that’s what they will probably be for the season. Because of Canzeri’s small frame, he can’t handle 20 yards a carry over a whole season but with the depth Iowa has at running back, he doesn’t need to. He will be a big change of pace from Weisman’s downhill running style. He should get around 700 to 800 yards depending on number of carries and injuries. Expect him to get some receptions as well but he will primarily be running the football.
Damon Bullock (#5, Senior, 6 feet, 205 pounds, Mansfield (TX) HS)
It seems like every year the coaches are asked if they are moving Damon Bullock to slot. The coaches always respond by saying that they are toying with it and they may have him out there at some point.
Bullock’s senior year is the year when it will actually happen. Since Iowa has 2 capable running backs ahead of him on the depth chart, Bullock’s role is limited. He has had over 100 carries each of the past two seasons so he won’t be completely phased out of the offense but he won’t have as much as a profound impact as before. My guess is that Bullock will develop more into Iowa’s 3rd down back.
3rd down backs are supposed to be very good pass catching backs that can keep the defenses honest with both the pass and run. They also have to be very good pass blockers, something Canzeri has struggled with. The coaches have always praised Bullock’s pass blocking prowess which makes him a prime candidate to be their 3rd down back. Don’t expect over 100 carries for the 3rd straight year, but expect around 70 or so. Although his carries will go down his receptions should improve from 20 to around 30.
LeShun Daniels Jr. (#29, Sophomore, 6 feet, 230 pounds, Harding HS (Warren, OH))
Meet Shonn Greene 2.0.
LeShun Daniels Jr. is basically a replica of the Doak Walker winner from 2008. He is huge- not as big as Weisman, but he is only a sophomore and has more speed. Daniels can make guys miss, stiff arm, and run through tacklers. He is, in short, Iowa’s running back of the future.
The reason why he isn’t the main guy now is because he is raw and doesn’t have the little nuances that Ferentz likes in his starters. Daniels struggles with finding the open hole and hesitates a little too much. Also, an easy way to find the field early is to get good at pass blocking, an area where Daniels needs to improve. He also coughed up the ball a little too much for Ferentz’s liking.
But he is young. This is only his second year on campus and he will continue to get better. He was good enough to avoid a redshirt even with 3 proven players in front of him. Expect him to average about 4 attempts a game with close to 50 carries total. Look for him in 2015 and 2016 to be the go-to-back for the Iowa offense.
Barkley Hill (#3, Sophomore (RS), 6-feet, 215 pounds, Cedar Falls (IA) HS)
Barkley Hill was expected to contend for the starting position in 2012 after surprising the coaches in summer practices. There was a buzz that he was the man to beat. Then he tore his ACL. He hasn’t played a single game for Iowa but there hasn’t been a need to rush him back to health with the depth Iowa now has. Expect him to see some carries, around 20 or 30 for the season, but he won’t get too many meaningful ones. Look for him to be a real contributor in the future, just not now.
Akrum Wadley (#31, Freshman (RS), 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Weequahic HS (Newark, NJ))
Jonathan Parker (#10, Freshman (RS), 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Christian Brothers HS (St. Louis, MO))
These 4 running backs will all get limited time because of depth. Wadley and Parker are redshirt freshmen behind 5 other players on the depth chart so don’t expect to see them too often. Iowa does play in a few games that could end up being blowouts which would be an opportunity to give Wadley and Parker some experience. Expect around 5 to 10 carries for Wadley and Parker each.
Markel Smith (Freshman, 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, St. John Vianney HS (St. Louis, MO))
C.J. Hilliard (Freshman, 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, St. Xavier HS (Cincinnati, OH))
Smith was a very heralded recruit and is absolutely huge right now for his age. The safe bet is that if one of the two true freshmen plays, it will be Smith. Hilliard may even move to play a different position given the depth Iowa has at running back. Chances are both of the true freshmen will redshirt but if we need them or AIRBHG strikes again, they may play.