Iowa running backs Akinribade, Young vying for playing time

Notebook: Hawkeyes have solid starter in Akrum Wadley, but pair of backs getting reps to fill hole left by LeShun Daniels; Wadley could field kicks, punts; Ferentz touches on Spring Game rules

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WEST DES MOINES — Everyone knows who the main man among running backs will be for the Iowa football team this fall. Senior-to-be Akrum Wadley stayed on campus after 1,081 yards his junior season, despite a brief flirtation with entering the NFL Draft, and his hold on the job is secure.

Beyond him, though, the role of that second feature back is open. LeShun Daniels rushed for 1,058 yards himself, but his graduation leaves sophomore Toks Akinribade and redshirt freshman Toren Young as the two vying to fill his spot.

At Iowa’s scrimmage Friday night at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines, Wadley only saw a few reps — both because the Hawkeyes need him healthy and his coaches know what he’s got. His limited snaps have allowed Akinribade and Young to get more work. They split carries pretty evenly Friday night, and Coach Kirk Ferentz and both running backs said the competition for that role Iowa needs filled has made them both better.

“We need to come out of the spring learning more about the guys who haven’t played,” Ferentz said. “That’s happened by natural — that’s just the way it’s panned out at that (running back) position.”

Young appeared to have the better practice among the two, but neither running back nor Ferentz tipped their hand as to who’s ahead of the other. While there are only six practices remaining in spring ball, there’s also a lot of time between now and the opener against Wyoming on Sept. 2.

In the intervening time, the pair has to make the most of their carries, Ferentz said. In talking about Young, Ferentz tossed out comparisons to Daniels, Shonn Greene and Marcus Coker in terms of style. Akinribade slants more toward the Wadley type, being slightly quicker and more agile, while Young is the more physical type.

But Akinribade pointed out that all three of the top running backs have skills in both areas, and that was on display Friday. He mentioned Young’s speed and Wadley’s power when saying coaches are “really pushing us to not just be specialized in one area and be good at everything.”

Akinribade saw 16 carries for 33 yards last season, so while Ferentz acknowledged they’d seen more out of him, but highlighted Young as one of the standout redshirt guys this spring.

Opportunity is pushing both players as they push each other — “like brothers,” Young said — and ultimately the more each player is capable of doing will ensure playing time opposite Wadley this season.

“The more you can do, the more chance you have to get on the field,” Young said. “Blocking is another one. If you can block, they can leave you in on third downs when teams are trying to blitz. The more you can do, the more you learn; the better chance you have of playing.”

WADLEY RETURNING PUNTS?

Ferentz hasn’t shied away from using key offensive or defensive players on special teams the last few years, most recently future NFL Draft pick Desmond King.

The latest potential star player fielding kicks is running back Akrum Wadley, who fielded several punts during Friday’s practice in West Des Moines. Wadley’s size and speed make him a good fit in that role should the Hawkeyes coaching staff want to go that route.

Ferentz didn’t say for sure if Wadley would be back to receive the opening kick of the season, and added he’d consider anyone who he thinks could be effective back there.

“That door is open for anybody,” Ferentz said. “Certainly Desmond was one of our best players last year, so if it’ll help us move the ball, advance the ball a little bit; field position is big, so yeah, it would really help.”

SPRING GAME RULES

The six spring practices left Ferentz mentioned culminates with the Spring Game on April 21, which this year will be broadcast on BTN.

Every school does their Spring Game a little differently, many of which using a scoring system in which the offense is pitted against the defense, with points being awarded for scoring plays to the offense and turnovers and stalled drives, for example, to the defense. Ferentz called what Iowa had used the last couple years, “a goofy scoring system,” and said to expect something like that again this year.

“I was flipping the channels last Saturday (watching other schools, and) we’re not the only ones using a goofy scoring system,” Ferentz said. “I don’t know if there’s a protocol for Spring Games anymore, but we will have some form of (one). We’ll play four quarters. We won’t kick off or return but we’ll keep things moving and hopefully it’s another chance to evaluate some guys.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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