INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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FOURTH DOWN — What we learned this spring
The quick, easy answer is not much, but that’s only if you measure what we saw in Des Moines and at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa didn’t run the ball much. Didn’t really need to (considering the potential body count that comes with inside drills) and didn’t really want to.
We did learn, however, that, yes, Iowa used senior Mark Weisman too much early last season. Head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Greg Davis and running backs coach Chris White all acknowledged that fact.
Weisman was the workhorse through Iowa’s first five games. He gained 63 percent of his yards in August/September. This took a physical toll. The 6-0, 240-pounder was beat up (foot, elbow and pectoral injuries). Iowa finally pulled junior Jordan Canzeri off the bench and he gained 69 percent of his 481 yards in November.
THIRD DOWN — So, who gets those carries that would’ve gone to Weisman?
Maybe last November was prelude? You look at the production and you jump to the conclusion that Canzeri had more carries than Weisman. Nope. Weisman had 59 carries to Canzeri’s 43. The difference was in how they were used. Weisman became somewhat of a short-yardage specialist. Any down with 5 yards to go, he got the call. Canzeri simply took advantage of his opportunities.
The Nebraska game spotlights this the best. It was a grind game. Iowa got a lead and wanted to work clock, so it unleashed Weisman and his physical style. He ended with 72 yards and two TDs on 24 carries. It felt like a lot more. Canzeri had just six carries for 59 yards, with a 37-yarder that set up a late, clinching TD being the highlight.
Size and ball security were reasons coaches talked about this spring as reasons why it took so long to get to Canzeri’s turn. This fall, Canzeri will have turns in the non-conference.
Of course, don’t forget senior Damon Bullock. He had 23 carries in November. Expect more to go his way.
As it stands right now, Iowa will have nine scholarship running backs next fall. Sophomore LeShun Daniels will be No. 4 in line. This spring, Daniels was clearly No. 4, followed by sophomore Barkley Hill and red-shirt freshmen Akrum Wadley and Jonathan Parker. Incoming freshmen Markel Smith and C.J. Hilliard will join the group this fall.
SECOND DOWN — Who said what?
“I think everyone in the room would agree that we probably wore Mark out a little bit. His productivity diminished a little bit after the Michigan State game. He stuck his cleat in the ground a little bit and hurt his foot, and he had a stretch for four or five games where we really didn’t practice him a lot, and it showed on the field, and he didn’t get as many reps. But I thought he finished the season well against Michigan and Nebraska.
“But you know, we’re trying to figure that out right now. That’s a great question. Jordan coming in, providing a spark obviously helped. I wish there was one guy that could do it all, I really do. It would make my job easier, but all the other guys in the room would not be happy.” — RB coach Chris White
“When Mark is healthy, he is really productive. We want to be conscious of the number of carries, because he’s not a guy that’s going to jump sideways very often. He’s going to attack the tackler.” — Offensive coordinator Greg Davis
“He [Canzeri] was just kind of stuck because Mark was playing well early, Damon had his role as a 3rd-down [back], really one‑back back, and we got to a point in the Wisconsin game where things weren’t happening for us, and Jordan came in there and ripped off a run.
“But you know, I’ve talked with him about things that were concerning with him. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s strong. He’s 190 pounds. We felt that pass protection was a concern, and he’s addressed that. But what I’ve learned from him is that he’s a really good running back. He has instinctually probably the best running back we have in terms of seeing things and making his cuts and having the balance that we want with bursting through a hole.” — White on Canzeri’s situation
FIRST DOWN — Summer cliffhanger
You know the pieces in place, but what’s unknown is how the veteran running backs will be used. Davis talked about not being able to evaluate running backs until there’s real contact. That’s what August camp is made for.
You know the backs, but how can Iowa maximize their use to keep everyone happy and help Iowa win? Wait, probably reverse that last part.
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