August 22, 2012

Options at RB

If someone wrote the story of Iowa running backs in recent years, let's be honest, no one would actually believe it.

From ACL's, to brushes with the law, to quitting the team, the story of Hawkeye running backs is amazing, stunning, and sadly…true.

Injuries are part of football and every fan base knows that very well. Fans also understand that sometimes it hits certain positions hard, maybe for one year, and it can cause a team to really reach for answers. If you want an Iowa example, think about the Hawkeyes situation at running back in 2004, three ACL tears early in the year followed by a high ankle sprain meant that Sam Brownlee was Iowa's starting running back. Of course, that team, led by Drew Tate and a very strong defense, ended up winning a share of the Big Ten title and then defeated LSU in the Capital One Bowl.

The 2004 Hawkeye team is a good example of overcoming adversity after devastating injuries at one position. Let's be honest, at the time every Hawkeye fan thought it was a one year run of extremely bad luck.

Since 2004, it's been one thing or another at running back for the Hawkeyes. After the 2008 season, Doak Walker Award winner, Shonn Greene leaves for the NFL. Jewel Hampton tears his ACL in early July and redshirt freshman Adam Robinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher step forward helping lead Iowa to a win in the Orange Bowl.

The downhill slide really started in 2010. Since then, seven running backs have left the program. Think about that for a second, seven backs have left the program in two years. Add in that two of the running backs that are left are now sidelined with ACL injuries and you have one heck of a headshaking chain of events.

The latest causality to Iowa's running back woes was announced on Tuesday afternoon, when Kirk Ferentz confirmed the fears of Hawkeye fans that freshman Barkley Hill tore his ACL this past Saturday in a scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium. Hill joins sophomore back Jordan Canzeri on the sidelines with ACL injuries.

That leaves Iowa with two healthy scholarship running backs. The starter this fall will be Damon Bullock, who last year at this time had already transitioned from RB to wide receiver during camp only to return to his former position early in the season after Mika'il McCall broke his ankle in the first game of the season. Last season, Bullock rushed for 20 yards. His backup with be Greg Garmon, a four star recruit signed by the Hawkeyes in February. The Erie, Pennsylvania prep rushed for over 2,800 yards and 27 touchdowns and it should be noted had a brush with law enforcement this summer before arriving in Iowa City.

Beyond the top two backs, Iowa's options range from using a fullback to a pair of walk-on's, who ironically both held offers from the Hawkeyes at one time.

The fullback option would be Brad Rogers, who is listed as a possible running back on the depth chart. Rogers came to Iowa as a running back and basically grew into a fullback. With the emergence this fall of fellow fullback Mark Weisman, using Rogers, especially in short yardage situations, could be a real possibility this fall.

As far as walk-on's, Iowa has two pretty good options in Andre Dawson and Michael Malloy. Dawson, who played as a prep at Cedar Rapids Washington High School, held an offer from the Hawkeyes in high school, but eventually landed for a year at Iowa Western Community College where he rushed for 263 yards last season. He walked on this spring to the Iowa program, so he should be very familiar with the new offensive system.

Malloy verbally committed to the Hawkeyes in late July of 2011, but had a run in with the law during his senior year, along with tearing his ACL in his second game of the season. He is walking on this year with the intention that he could be placed on scholarship next year. In the scrimmage this past Saturday, he was very effective between the tackles and showed a good burst at the line of scrimmage. As it stands, he could be Iowa's next best option after Bullock and Garmon.

Another option this year could be Jordan Canzeri. The sophomore back tore his ACL this spring and is making a quick recovery. While the intentions of the coaching staff heading into this year were to have Canzeri redshirt, they may be reaching in case of emergency, break glass when it comes to Canzeri. It's unlikely that Canzeri will be medically cleared to start the season, but he was back at practice on Tuesday and in uniform for the Hawkeyes. It's still unlikely that he would be able to play to start the season, but he's close to being a real option in 2012, which is pretty remarkable.

While it's safe to say that heading into the 2012 season the situation at running back for the Hawkeyes is less than ideal, it's also not a lost cause with any hope. There are still several talented options on hand including the possibility of adding to that mix when Canzeri is cleared. Having said that, Iowa's margin for error (or injury) at running back is once again razor thin heading into the season.

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