Weisman will be there in August
The senior is in the plans, but 9 RBs means possibilities
IOWA CITY -- The question to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was about the possibility that Iowa will have as many as nine running backs on scholarship next fall. That's a big number.
This was the beginning of spring practice, a time when more possibilities are out on the table than at any other time during the season. With that in mind -- the fact that football games are around four months away -- Ferentz mentioned running back Mark Weisman as a possibility at fullback.
Football games are around four months away. More possibilities are on the table now than any other time in the season. Weisman, a 6-0, 240-pound senior, has led the Hawkeyes in rushing each of the last two seasons. He has 1,790 career rushing yards, No. 14 in Iowa history, going into his senior season.
Weisman has done all this as Iowa's No. 1 running back.
"There really hasn't been a discussion at this point," Ferentz said of the possibilities. "Mark Weisman has flexibility being a fullback and running back, but hopefully it's a good problem. Hopefully, it ends up being a crowded position, we'll see. I think it has the potential for that.
" I think the other part is they all have some different packages that they offer. We'll kind of fool around with that this spring and see what it looks like."
Weisman didn't blink at the idea of fullback. He began his career as a walk-on fullback who transferred into Iowa from Air Force, which was his only offer coming out of Stevenson (Ill.) High School. Weisman wasn't a hugely pedigreed player who could call his shot, so, of course, he's up for anything.
He also was quick to mention that Iowa had two pretty good fullbacks last season in junior Adam Cox and junior Macon Plewa.
"I'll do whatever they tell me to," said Weisman, who was 10th in the Big Ten last season with 74.92 yards a game (he finished with 974 yards and eight TDs). "Whatever the coaches want me to do, I just want to help the team in anyway I possibly can out there. I think a lot of guys on this team feel that way."
A quick review of how running back worked last season with Weisman, senior Damon Bullock and junior Jordan Canzeri goes like this: Weisman was the workhorse through Iowa's first five games (he gained 63 percent of his yards in August/September), Weisman was dinged up (foot, elbow and pectoral injuries) and, finally, Canzeri emerged (he gained 69 percent of his 481 yards in November).
So, running back usage evolved. Weisman converted short-yardage situations and maintained his role on first and second downs. Canzeri made the most of his opportunity. Bullock's workload shrank (61 carries in August/September and 23 in November). Sophomore LeShun Daniels got a look (36 carries), but not much more than a look.
"Peoples' roles were changing," Weisman said. "It's a crowded backfield, it's a good backfield. Everyone is going to have to accept their roles on this team and do whatever it takes to win.
"I think competition makes everyone better. If you're just sitting there knowing you're sitting pretty, it's not going to work."
Iowa has nearly run out of running backs in recent seasons. That plays into the coaching staff's thinking. Ferentz admitted Iowa did use Weisman too much early last season (53 percent -- 119 of 226 -- of Weisman's carries came in August/September).
"In Mark's case, he runs so hard, so physical as a player, the caution with him is just over doing it," Ferentz said. "We've done that in the past. Last year, we kind of had to pull back to get him back to where he was going at an effective rate. If you don't pull him back, he won't. He's one of those guys. To me, it's a good thing right now. It's a good situation."
The fact that Ferentz mentions Weisman as a fullback confirms that he is a 'tweener -- part fullback, part running back and used as a running back. What running back skills did Weisman want to sharpen this offseason?
He mentioned second-level elusiveness. Once Weisman broke the line of scrimmage, his specialty, he believed he was too easy to bring down in the open field. "Sometime, you have to use the stiff arm to get away," he said. "Sometimes, it's a little juke move. I'm not going to juke anyone out of the stadium, but a subtle juke move is just as good sometimes."
One offseason exercise Weisman and his fellow running backs had to endure was watching every play they ran last season on video and breaking them down. Weisman said it helped him critique his reads.
"We have certain reads on every play," Weisman said. "Sometimes, it's an iffy read, you don't know what you saw on the field. The film doesn't lie. We had to critique ourselves on every play, that was definitely a humbling thing."
Iowa has a chance to have nine scholarship running backs next fall, with Weisman, Bullock, Canzeri and Daniels joined Barkley Hill, Akrum Wadley, Jonathan Parker, Markel Smith and C.J. Hilliard.
It's April, the opportunities are on the table. How deeply those are explored, who knows. Ferentz said he believes it's a good situation. In August, nine running backs aren't carrying the ball. That's a certainty, and so is Weisman in the backfield. Somewhere.