No. 30 ... The crazy career of running back Damon Bullock (6-0, 205) concludes this season. It seems like just yesterday that the Texas native surprised most Iowa observers when he appeared in the 2011 opener against Tennessee Tech as a wide receiver. He was a lightly recruited running back (Iowa was his only offer) out of Mansfield, Texas, who showed up on the field as a true freshman wide receiver.
A spat of injuries moved Bullock back to running back. Fellow freshman Jordan Canzeri won the job after Marcus Coker was suspended for the 2011 Insight Bowl. Bullock had a few shining moments as a sophomore. He churned out 150 yards and the game-winning TD in the opener against Northern Illinois. He suffered a couple of concussions, missed four games and then returned to rush for 107 yards at Northwestern. That was his last 100-yard performance and that was 17 games ago.
Bullock carried 135 times for the Hawkeyes in 2012 (33 percent of Iowa’s carries that year). Last year, he had 118 carries (21 percent). Once Iowa figured out what it had in Canzeri, Bullock’s carries floated his way. In Iowa’s final four games, Bullock had six, 10, four and three carries.
But, we’re talking Iowa running back. The doors never close on these guys because you never know.
“Damon is a valuable player on our football team, he really is,” running backs coach Chris White said. “He does a great job in pass protection, he runs routes real well, catches the ball out of the backfield, and he’s working on some things in the running game that we pointed out in the off‑season that he needs to work on.”
Bullock is 10th among Iowa’s leading rushers during the Kirk Ferentz era. Bullock has 257 carries for 1,000 yards and four TDs.
Not a WR, no ... Sometimes, we play fantasy football. Bullock does show some knack in the passing game. He caught 20 passes last season, the most for an Iowa RB since Coker caught 21 in 2011. For his career, Bullock has 39 catches for 351 yards.
Make no mistake, he is not a wide receiver. He’s a running back who knows how to be a weapon in the passing game (the 47-yard catch-and-run TD against Michigan State this year is case in point).
“I know you guys have asked this question a lot,” White said. “Damon is a running back, and especially at this point in his career. To just think you can throw a guy out from running back to wide receiver just because he’s athletic and he can catch, I see what you’re seeing, but it’s a lot of work to it, and he’s not really built that way. He’s 205 pounds and he’s got a running back body. He’d have a lot of work to do releasing at the line of scrimmage, reading coverage, all the things that go into being a wide receiver.
“But we realize what he can do, and we’re trying to get him isolated out there.”
Running the long race ... It wasn’t too long ago that Bullock was the only healthy running back with any experience on the roster. It was summer of 2012, when former RB De’Andre Johnson was dismissed. Suddenly, it was Bullock and two freshmen who were incoming at the time, Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill. At that point, going back to the 2008 season, Iowa had 10 running backs leave the school before their eligibility was finished. (Just read that last sentence, three of the four RBs mentioned are gone.)
Bullock and Mark Weisman are Iowa’s first senior running backs since Albert Young and Damian Sims in 2007.
Preservation is part of the game plan. Iowa coaches want a fresh RB able to be full service in November. They feel like they can get there with three.
Outlook ... If you were taking odds on Iowa’s leading rusher in 2014, you’d probably have a tough time finding people to bet against Weisman. And then with what Canzeri showed at the end of 2013, you have to believe he’ll see more carries this season.
What about Bullock? He clearly is in the plans. If injuries happen, if he has breakthroughs with the adjustments White described, Bullock could be the last man standing.
Right now, however, Bullock is No. 3. Don’t look for running backs to be suddenly unleashed in the passing game, either. If Weisman does what’s expected, if Canzeri stays on trajectory, there aren’t enough carries. Bullock averaged 5.75 touches in Iowa’s final four games last season. If the “ifs” stick, that sounds about right.
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