IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz sounded like a plant manager who was a little behind schedule.
The bumps and bruises of fall camp had clearly taken a bite out of running back in last weekend’s scrimmage. Iowa had three available with three others being held out of competition for precautionary reasons.
Sophomore Damon Bullock started and took all the carries with the No. 1 offense. Walk-on junior Andre Dawson and true freshman Nate Meier were used with the backups. True freshmen Greg Garmon, Barkley Hill and Michael Malloy and junior fullback/running back Brad Rogers were banged up and sat out, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“They’ve been doing fine [the running backs]. This was unfortunate,” Ferentz said. “We don’t tackle a lot in practice and today was a big day. We may have to do more of it than we expected, just so we can find out how they play when they do get tackled. Brad has been in and out with injuries, too. It’s hard to get continuity.”
The other notable absence was cornerback B.J. Lowery, who suffered an unspecified sprain, Ferentz said.
This is where the “behind schedule” kicks in. Iowa has 19 days until it opens the season against Northern Illinois at Solider Field in Chicago. Iowa’s staff has to see how true freshmen running backs respond to getting tackled. It’s a tricky proposition, because first-year players, obviously, weren’t hit like this in high school. Same goes for young defensive players.
“There is no right answer to it, no right answer to it,” Ferentz said when asked how much full-contact practice he feels his team can have. “Some years are different than others. We’ll probably have to do more moving more than we planned, only because of our situation.”
Runners have to be tackled. Tacklers have to tackle. That will be high on the list of priorities as the Hawkeyes hit their second week of camp.
“Live” is the key word. If you were listening closely, you heard Ferentz yell that out to the team late in the afternoon Saturday. “Live” means fire up the jets, run hard and tackle hard.
Iowa’s scrimmage segments on Saturday were first down, third down, no-huddle, two scrimmage periods and a two-minute drill at the end. The only “live” period there was the second scrimmage, which was just a handful of plays for the first team.
“We had eight plays live there. Everything else was just tag them up,” middle linebacker James Morris said. “The two minute wasn’t live, so, [TE C.J.] Fiedorowicz’s little post-catch run to the end zone . . . he was down.”
Since he arrived in ’99, Ferentz has limited tackling in practice to avoid injury. That has held true so far during this camp.
“You saw a couple periods of tackle today, which were good because we haven’t been tackling that much in practice,” cornerback Micah Hyde said. “He [Ferentz] let us loose a few times and that’s good for our defense and offense. That’s what we need.”
Another measure coaches would like to make here is toughness. Of course it’s a concept that is immeasurable, but there’s a gauge, a “know it when you see it” type of thing. If a player tweaks an ankle and doesn’t sit out a practice, that’s part of it.
“You’ve got to build toughness, you just don’t have toughness,” Morris said. “That’s been a big thing coach Ferentz has said, build toughness.”
The bottom line is this: “Guys who are going to touch the ball need to be tackled at some point and, certainly, all guys on defense need to tackle,” Ferentz said.
And sooner rather than later on that.