March 28, 2012

Spring Outlook: RB

Another Iowa spring and it's yet another year of adjusting to massive turnover in the backfield. One year after losing three running backs, the Hawkeyes are now adjusting to life without two of their top backs. Right now Jordan Canzeri leads the Iowa rushing attack, but he will certainly face a challenge from others, including a pair of true freshmen arriving on campus this fall.

Starters Lost: Marcus Coker

Starters Returning: Brad Rogers

Two Deeps:
RB: Jordan Canzeri (SO), Damon Bullock (SO), DeAndre Johnson (SO)
FB: Brad Rogers (JR), Jonathon Gimm (SR)

The Numbers: Canzeri: 31 rushes for 125 yards, 6 receptions for 28 yards and 1 touchdown. Johnson: 18 rushes for 81 yards. Bullock:10 rushes for 28 yards, 1 reception for 11 yards. Rogers: 1 rush for 8 yards, 1 reception for 7 yards. Gimm: 1 reception for 5 yards.

Overview

Another year and another case of massive turnover at the running back position for the Hawkeyes. Last year at this time Marcus Coker had moved to center stage after his MVP performance in the 2010 Insight Bowl win over Missouri and the trio of Brandon Wegher, Adam Robinson, and Jewel Hampton were already out of Iowa City.

One year later, Coker is gone and currently enrolled at Stony Brook. Flashy freshman Mikail McCall also left after the season.

If it seems like you have heard this story before, you have. If someone told you about the turnover that Iowa has faced the past few years at running back, no one would probably believe you. But, that's the reality in Iowa City these days and another group of relatively fresh faces are looking at the misfortune of Coker and McCall as an opportunity.

Jordan Canzeri leads the pack at running back this spring coming off a nice performance in the 2011 Insight Bowl. While he didn't put up Coker type numbers in the bowl game, he did as well as you could expect against a very good Oklahoma defense. The big need for Canzeri heading into the 2012 season is adding weight and he's doing just that and is now up over 190 pounds.

After bouncing around in his freshman year from running back to slot receiver and back again, Damian Bullock looks to be back on the backfield this year. Kirk Ferentz admitted that he probably didn't do Bullock many favors last year moving him around. He seems to have found a more permanent home now at running back and this spring will be important for his development.

There was a time following the bowl game when it appeared that DeAndre Johnson might be joining the exodus out of Iowa City, but the sophomore back realizes that if you wait around long enough opportunity might just knock. Johnson ran pretty well in his limited opportunities last year, so perhaps he can push for carries this fall.

At fullback, otherwise known as glorified guard in the Iowa offense, Brad Rogers returns for his junior year. One year ago, Rogers future playing football was in limbo after heart issues sent him to the sidelines during bowl prep. The good news is Rogers has been given a clean bill of health and should be fully back to form this year. He will be backed up this year by Jonathon Gimm, who started his Hawkeye career at tight end.

Biggest Question

How will new offensive coordinator Greg Davis use the running backs and fullbacks in his offense?

That is probably the biggest question this spring facing the running backs. That and simply staying around for four years.

In the past, Davis has used his backs in the variety of different ways. It's unlikely that Iowa will make drastic changes to their running game and their use of the zone blocking scheme. That's the bread and butter of Hawkeye Football under Kirk Ferentz, so expect a departure would be foolish.

Where Davis might add some spice to the Iowa attack is using running backs and perhaps fullbacks in the passing game. Davis is big on not trying to fit square pegs into round holes and Canzeri and Bullock certainly seem to be backs that can catch the football and make plays in space. The rumblings out of Iowa City are that the Hawkeyes offense might include more throwing the running backs out of the backfield, so Iowa fans should keep a very close eye on this possible development this spring.

The Future

If history is our teacher, either Barkley Hill or Greg Garmon will see playing time early at running back. It could end up being both players contributing as true freshmen or only one, but it's a good bet that one of the two will see action this fall. Hill, a native of Cedar Falls, made the late switch and ran in an offense that was very similar to what the Hawkeyes have done in the past.

Garmon, who was a four star back coming out of Erie, PA, has all of the potential in the world. While his talent as a running back can't be questioned, he will have to pick up the offense very quickly in order to contribute as a true freshman.


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