In retrospect, the juggling act Iowa pulled off at running back last season is kind of incredible.
Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon manned the position through the first two games. When both were hurt against Northern Iowa, the Mark Weisman story began. Then, when Weisman succumbed to ankle and groin injuries, Bullock returned from a concussion.
And that's how it went for Iowa RB in '12. Weisman, Bullock and Garmon and not really that much Garmon, who ended up transferring (Butte College, a juco in California). Weisman missed two games and was severely limited in two others. Bullock missed six games, suffering a bruised back late in the season.
Coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis sweated out RB while freshman Michael Malloy and sophomore Jordan Canzeri somehow kept redshirt seasons intact. Canzeri suffered a torn ACL in March, but seemed healthy by October and was considered for playing time.
Malloy, 6-0, 215, also came close to playing. He suffered an illness at some point during the season and ended up staying redshirted.
With Bullock looking at more time in the slot, Iowa will have at least four healthy and hungry running backs going into 2013. Throw in redshirt freshman Barkley Hill, who suffered a torn ACL last August.
Where does Malloy fit? He has to be considered one of Iowa's most interesting prospects going into the season.
Key 2012 factor: Malloy kept his redshirt and that has given his body a chance to grow into a Big Ten-level running back. When he walked on at Iowa last fall, he was listed at 180 pounds. Who knows how accurate that was. Then, last August when Malloy started to rise, Ferentz kind of spilled the beans and said Malloy was never 180. He's listed at 215 now and looks a lot like former Hawkeye/NFL RB Ladell Betts.
Offseason factors: It's seemingly a rite of spring. The Iowa RB position goes into hibernation in the winter and comes out a re-shaped corps in the spring and fall. This year, Garmon hit the road, saying the offense wasn't really a fit for him. So, that moved everyone up a spot. That was reflected in the spring game.
Weisman's physical style was pretty much shelved while Malloy and Canzeri saw 25 carries in the game. Malloy led the team with 12 carries for 56 yards, including back-to-back 16-yard runs and a 1-yard TD plunge.
“I thought he did some really nice things today, too,” Ferentz said. “He’s a guy we’re kind of intrigued with.”
Competition: It's healthy. For the first time in years, Iowa will go into a season with healthy options at running back. Will it last? That remains to be scene, but this competition should produce some talented back. Iowa sets up to be a strong rushing team this season. The O-line is a strength. Weisman is a somewhat proven commodity. Bullock can play B1G running back. Malloy and Canzeri will have a chance to carve out roles.
I don't see Weisman being unseated as the potential 20-carry back, something Iowa has had in four of the last six seasons. But durability is a thing with Weisman and Malloy might be the next power RB on the list.
Why No. 33?: How many touches will RB Nos. 2 and 3 get? Iowa has take a "1a, 1b" approach in four of the last six seasons. Only in 2010 and 2008 did one running back take 60 percent or more of Iowa's carries. Those two running backs were Shonn Greene and Marcus Coker. Weisman has a similar build (235-plus). Maybe he becomes the workhorse, but more likely Iowa is looking at a "1a, 1b" with other runners who can bring other dimensions to the game.
Outlook: It'll be interesting to see how much of a workload Malloy earns. Does he have a skill set that could distinguish him from Weisman? Is he the Weisman insurance policy? Is he good enough to challenge for No. 1 RB carries? We have a book on Weisman and Bullock. We haven't seen Malloy in a game. He looks the part, but let's see how he takes to the traffic.Click here for an interactive look at the complete Top 45 series.