116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CHICAGO — It's probably time to wake up and realize that Iowa running back probably isn't going to be a singular thing in 2019.
Maybe that's by design. Maybe that's been necessity. Maybe it reverts to one back seeing 250 carries.
Iowa running back has been really, sort of 'whatever works.' All shapes and sizes. Wide-ranging skill sets.
Akrum Wadley had 252 carries for 1,109 yards in 2017. Last year, Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin divided up nearly 400 carries.
On a team that's trying to find out if it might have a singular, 250-carry running back, it's time to consider the notion of selflessness.
The Hawkeyes will have six scholarship running backs in attendance when camp starts Aug. 2. It's not going to be jackpot for everyone.
Junior Toren Young is well aware of this. So, the notion of selflessness.
'You know, it's not tough,' Young said Friday at Big Ten media days. 'You go to work with guys every day and you go through the things we go through, the long meetings, the early mornings, the late nights.
'The conditioning, we're in the thickest part of our conditioning right now. You look around at those guys and you really build a connection with them and it's family.'
Head coach Kirk Ferentz realizes it's going to be difficult finding meaningful practice reps for six running backs — Young, Sargent, Kelly-Martin, Henry Geil, Shadrick Byrd and Tyler Goodson.
'Oh, it's great,' Ferentz said. 'It's a great problem to have.'
No one is sugarcoating it. The Hawkeyes need more out of the running game this season.
Last season was the first time since 2006 Iowa didn't have a running back reach at least 800 yards (Sargent led the Hawkeyes with 745 yards). For the second consecutive year, Iowa's yards per carry was less than 4 yards. Iowa generated just seven carries of 20-plus yards, No. 124 in the country.
'We've got to improve,' said Young, who finished with 637 yards on 136 carries.
Young goes right to the Outback Bowl vs. Mississippi State. Never mind the fact that Mississippi State had one of the best defenses in the country last season (Alabama good), Young sees Iowa's minus-15 rushing yards and winces.
'We look at last year as a whole and we believe we can do better than that,' Young said. 'We're working together in the running back room in ways we never have.'
An example on that is an emphasis on film work. Second-year running backs coach Derrick Foster has gotten more granular with his players.
'He's really showing us how coaches break down film and it's a big difference,' Young said. 'We often get caught up as running backs just looking at the run. How did we do? We're just watching ourselves.
'Now we're seeing different things. Where is that safety? Where's the rotation (within the defense)? How is this offensive lineman going to play against a 3 technique? What front is the defensive line running. We're really seeing the big picture and that really helps with vision and anticipating things.'
Of course, quarterback Nate Stanley has a vested interest in Iowa's running game. Remember, part of the quarterback's job is knowing what everyone is doing. Stanley has that super power.
'Coach Foster has done a great job with the running backs and getting them to not only run hard, but also with better vision out on the field,' Stanley said. 'That's one thing he's trusted a lot is different read keys for them. He's done a good job in getting their eyes on their targets and seeing those holes.'
And just like Hawkeye fans, Stanley is interested in getting to know Byrd and Goodson. He'll also have an eye out if he senses they're getting lost.
'(Quarterbacks) Coach (Ken) O'Keefe will say 'If someone needs a reminder on what to do or if you can help them out before the play happens or in the huddle, do it,' Stanley said. 'That's something that keeps me on my toes on knowing the offense inside and out. If somebody is in for their first or second rep or something, I'll ask, 'Hey, you know what you got?''
That's exactly what the Hawkeyes will be doing for most of August, finding out what they have at running back.
However it shakes out, Young isn't packing his ego for a monthlong stay at the Coralville Marriott, which is where the Hawkeyes stay during camp.
'You're happy for other guys' success,' he said. 'You don't worry about yourself. You want to succeed, you want to push yourself, but it's never about you. When you're in a good locker room like this, you're just ready to go to war with your guys.'
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