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Kaleb Johnson Ready to be More Physical in Year Two

Kaleb Johnson is ready to take a leap his second year in Iowa City.
Kaleb Johnson is ready to take a leap his second year in Iowa City. (© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

It's not often true freshman come into the Iowa football program and contribute right away -- especially in a skill position role on offense. For Kaleb Johnson, it was a daunting task in 2022.

"At first last year, I was running kind of scared and timid," he said at Iowa's Football Media Day on Friday. "I didn't know what to expect after coming straight to college out of high school and playing right away against people that were older than me by two or three years."

"We had some guys who were playing before they were ready last season," running back coach Ladell Betts said. "Kaleb included."


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He wracked up 779 yards and six scores on 151 timid carries as Iowa's lead back last season. That's why he and everyone around him expect a sophomore year leap in 2023.

"I've talked to him and told him 'Don't put too much pressure on yourself," Betts said. "I know a lot of the talk outside of the building gets put on Kaleb, and a lot of focus gets put on him -- and rightfully so. He earned that with some of his performance from last year. All we expect him to do is go out there and be Kaleb."

Johnson isn't ducking the pressure, though -- he's focused on what he needs to do to take his game to the next level.

"Being more dominant and confident and trying to punish people," he said. "That's going to do a lot for me -- being confident, consistent and doing the little things right. Getting more comfortable with process -- that's all it will take to bring that out of me."

"Being more forceful and taking on defenders as they come will benefit him," Betts added. "He knows the way to finish runs is to run through the defense. Defenses get tired of tackling. If they have a guy that keeps attacking them play after play, they don't like that. They don't want to have to deal with that."

He points to one player in the NFL he wants to model.

"The guy I always look at is Derrick Henry," Johnson said. "The stiff arm -- just chucking dudes and owning it. That's what I want to do. I want to come in and show people what I can do."