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Running on not quite empty
IOWA CITY -- Julian Vandervelde is as good of an authority as anyone.
The Hawkeye offensive lineman majors in religious studies and English. He's not sleeping in class, either. He's a three-time academic all-Big Ten pick.
Maybe he has an answer for the Bermuda Triangle that the Iowa running back position has become.
"Everyone has their own individual thing as far as faith is concerned," the senior said. "It'd be great to have the Big Guy on our side, but I don't think he ever favors one person over the other."
It was worth a shot.
Iowa running back dipped as low as the fifth string during a Big Ten co-championship run in '04. During last season's magical 11-2, the gauge nearly read empty a few times, with Adam Robinson's ankle and Brandon Wegher's ribs miraculously healing in time to make starts.
Going into this season, Iowa had Robinson, Wegher and Jewel Hampton, who returned after missing 2009 with a torn ACL. Then, Wegher left the team for personal reasons Aug. 7 and hasn't returned. Hampton is suspended for Saturday's opener after a summer public intoxication arrest.
And then there was one.
"How far are you going back, 2004?" Ferentz said Tuesday when asked about running backs and fate. "You've got me thinking now. Thanks a lot."
Robinson, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound sophomore from Des Moines, will be the one when the No. 9 Hawkeyes open their season Saturday against Eastern Illinois, which is ranked No. 16 in the FCS.
After Robinson, it's senior Paki O'Meara. After O'Meara, at least on Saturday, it's sophomore walk-on Jason White.
"There's always adversity with football, on or off the field, it doesn't matter where it comes from," said Robinson, who rushed for 834 yards last season, finishing fourth in the Big Ten. "We have to rise above it. We did a great job with that last year. We'll continue to do it this year."
They'll also continue without Wegher. Ferentz hasn't communicated with Wegher in more than a week. He added that there's no timetable for a decision, but that the team has moved on for 2010.
"I think it's pretty obvious right now we have to move on," Ferentz said. "It's pretty obvious from him not being here, he has no intentions of playing right now. So, we'll just cross the bridge (a return) whenever we get to it, if we get to it."
Ferentz said he's "hopeful" Wegher is going to class on a routine basis. "As far as I know, he is," he said. Wegher remains on scholarship.
"I hope he goes to class and has a great year academically," Ferentz said. "He can decide during that time if he wants to play football or not. I'm not sitting by the phone waiting for a decision. I think right now it's all in his hands.
"The only critical factor here is don't do something that's going to deter your future, like take absence from class. Don't shut the door on possibilities. That's my advice. That's kind of where I'm at right now."
Don't look for help at running back from the true freshmen, at least in the near future. Marcus Coker is two weeks away from full speed after suffering a shoulder injury early in camp. He's having an X ray taken this week. When Ferentz was asked about De'Andre Johnson, he said the Florida prep would likely redshirt.
This leaves Iowa with two experienced running backs. Ferentz is OK with that.
"I'm good with one, if we have one that's good," he said.
And one of those backs is coming off ACL surgery. Hampton was the heir apparent after a solid 2008, but tore an ACL in late June and missed '09. The knee doesn't appear to be an issue. Hampton impressed the Big Ten Network crew when it came through town two weeks ago. More importantly, his coach likes what he sees.
"Most guys come back from them (ACL surgeries) stronger," Ferentz said. "If he's not, you can fool me. He looks older and stronger than he did in 2008, which you would expect. He's been training hard and looks good. I think he's here to play."
Ferentz wondered if it wasn't the even years where his running back chart was safe from collapse. But then he remembered 2004, when running back No. 5 Sam Brownlee was the last man standing.
"We seemed to dodge a bullet in '02. It worked OK in '08 (when Shonn Greene won the Doak Walker Award)," he said. "I'll have to think about that later tonight."
Theology, numerology, whatever-ology. Ferentz isn't looking to the heavens for an explanation.
Robinson, Hampton and then maybe it gets biblical.