CEDAR RAPIDS - Cedar Rapids Jefferson was anxious to see if 2016 would be a year of reconstruction or merely a reload.
Against an experienced Pleasant Valley team, the J-Hawks learned they have a ways to go.
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No. 41 ... Over the last seven seasons, Iowa has kept anywhere from one to three running backs busy. From the Albert Young-Damian Sims combo in 2007 to Mark Weisman-Jordan Canzeri-Damon Bullock last season, the Hawkeyes, if nothing else, have persevered through torrents of injuries and attrition. Even when it looked as though Iowa would finally zero out (Marcus Coker’s suspension before the 2011 Insight Bowl, for example) at the position, it found someone to carry the ball. Those razor-thin RB situations triggered a run on running back in Iowa City.
In 2014, Iowa is awash in insurance policies. It’s safe to assume the top three RBs are Weisman (teams’ leading rusher the last two seasons), Canzeri (opened eyes late last year, most instinctual back) and Bullock (passing-game threat). Then, Iowa has five more scholarship running backs. Iowa has options on top of options.
This is fluid and is certainly subject to change, but as it stands now, sophomore LeShun Daniels (6-0, 230) is RB No. 4.
The “come back to bite you” factor ... So, what did the AIRBHG (Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, h/t Black Heart Gold Pants) reign of terror teach us? The big takeaway is that opportunity is fleeting. Canzeri replaced Coker for the ‘11 Insight and was poised for a major chunk of the carries in 2012. He suffered a torn ACL that spring. Barkley Hill was set to be a major contributor in 2012, but then tore an ACL in August and has since transferred.
When making a list of Iowa’s top 45 players in June, there’s a possibility that a few of these choices could look kind of silly. Weisman didn’t make the list in 2012. He was a backup fullback. He ended the season as Iowa’s leading rusher.
The Hawkeyes made it through 2013 with three relatively healthy running backs, but we’ve seen the bodies drain from this position. Any given carry, Daniels could quickly find himself in the mix or being the featured back.
The running back redshirt ... Take a look at this seven-year stretch of running backs at Iowa. Fifteen players ended up on scholarship. Just five of those have redshirted and two of the redshirts had extenuating circumstances. (Young suffered a broken leg in camp. Canzeri redshirted after his injury in the spring of ‘12.)
“Running back is one position where a player can see the field early,” Rivals.com midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “We’ve seen a lot of running backs see the field early. As long as they can pick up the playbook and handle the finer points like blocking [they can play early]. Can they be trusted to be a blocker on passing downs? Running backs pretty much are what they are when they step on campus. A few guys develop and become more. That speed, explosiveness, vision, a guy either has it or he doesn’t. That’s why you see a lot of running backs get on the field early.”
Look at Daniels. Yes, he looks the part at a burly 230 pounds. His clock is ticking. Can he find the refinement this season to see a regular amount of carries?
Outlook ... The Hawkeyes have eight running backs. They have their power RBs in Weisman and Daniels. They have an instinctual 190-pounder in Canzeri. Bullock is the pass threat. And then, Iowa has mystery backs. Redshirt freshmen Akrum Wadley (5-11, 180) and Jonathan Parker (5-8, 180) don’t fit the Iowa power profile, but have shown quickness in their limited public showings. It’ll be interesting to see how their roles evolve.
Incoming freshman Markel Smith and C.J. Hilliard have differing skill sets. Smith rushed for 7,145 yards at St. John Vianney High School, that’s second all-time in the St. Louis area. Hilliard has all-purpose skills. There’s a chance they redshirt. That is the benefit of having so many running backs. You can redshirt a few and work on development.
That said, if Iowa needs eight running backs, then that scene in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the Batman movie where Gotham City is taken over and football players disappear into the earth when the villain Bane sets off underground explosions, will have happened.
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