Hey, Iowa has running backs this year. More than one and a half, even.
So, instead of staring into the running back abyss week in and week out, there's some actual competition for carries. Iowa has a semi-proven commodity in junior Mark Weisman, a fullback-like running back who rushed for more than 800 yards last season. There's Damon Bullock. If he doesn't suffer a concussion against Northern Iowa last season, do you even hear about Weisman?
And there's Jordan Canzeri (5-9, 189). While Iowa fought off running back oblivion last season, the sophomore was in the late stages of recovering from a torn ACL suffered last March in spring practice. At one point last season, coach Kirk Ferentz said Canzeri was ready several times. He had medical clearance. But, probably wisely, the redshirt stayed on and now Canzeri will hit the field this August with 17 months between him and the ACL.
Despite excellent showings in Iowa's spring games, it's hard to slot Canzeri in the Iowa backfield. Weisman is the prototypical Iowa back. During Big Ten media days, Ferentz said he could see Weisman getting 20 carries a game. Bullock has captivated the Iowa staff since he stepped on campus in 2011. He's been a WR and he's been the starting running back. What will he be this year?
Canzeri is on the small side for an Iowa running back, which could see an expanded role in the passing game if the passing game gets it figured out this fall.
Iowa has running backs. How will offensive coordinator Greg Davis use the different bodies at the position? Kind of a big deal.
Key 2012 factor: It was around March 29 when Canzeri suffered his knee injury. Just more than five months later, Canzeri was medically cleared to return to football. The date was on or around Sept. 12. Ferentz filed it under "he'll see the field when he's ready to go." That eventually turned into a full redshirt season. Probably not a bad idea considering the length of Canzeri's rehab.
This talk remained open ended then and still is now (at least until Weisman is handed the reins to 20 carries).
“I didn’t even allow myself to think about (Canzeri returning) during the course of the summer because I didn’t think it was realistic," Ferentz said. "Now, it’s just a matter of when he is ready to play.”
Canzeri carried 31 times for 114 yards as a true freshman in 2011. He started the 2011 Insight Bowl and rushed for 58 yards and caught six passes for 28 yards and a TD in a 31-14 loss to Oklahoma.
Offseason factor: Iowa's running game can potentially go several different directions. Perhaps this is the upside of the constant turnover Iowa has endured at running back the last five or so seasons. “That’s the one good thing that comes out of these situations,” Ferentz said. “Other guys do get experience and opportunities.”
"The experience I had my freshman year and then going through all of the backfires with the knee injury, I think that's made me stronger mentally and physically," Canzeri said, "to go through that rehab and come back even faster and to be 100 percent even now, it's just been really exciting."
The major factor for all of Iowa's running backs is . . . you know . . . durability.
Your favorite Iowa RB is there one day, and gone the next. Weisman missed the better part of four games with ankle and groin injuries. Bullock missed six with the concussion. It's a frustration that Canzeri knows all too well.
"To be spotted at the first string [which Canzeri was at the time of his ACL injury] and then have an injury like that and have it taken away from you that fast, was really hard. It just made me stay humble and really work at getting back even faster."
Competition: It's fierce. We've mentioned Weisman and Bullock. Redshirt freshman Michael Malloy will go on scholarship when the semester begins and will be an intriguing prospect at 6-0, 215 pounds. Redshirt freshman Barkley Hill will be full-go after suffering a torn ACL last August (right when it looked as though he would have a shot at No. 1). And then there's the incoming freshman trio of Jonathan Parker, Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels. Parker and Wadley are smaller, quicker, faster backs. Daniels is 6-0, 215.
You see all those names in one paragraph. That's a lot of names.
Why No. 20?: We're talking about Iowa and we're talking about running back. The truth is there are two more to come on this list. Iowa has the potential to be a solid rushing team. The O-line has key experience at the tackle positions. Iowa has the backs to throw out there. Whoever the new QB is will need everything the Hawkeyes can get out of the running game.
Also, Canzeri did get a solid look at possible punt return duty this spring. He could bring value there.
Outlook: Weisman led the Hawkeyes in explosive plays last season, but two of Iowa's top six "explosive plays" -- 20-plus yards -- came on interception returns by linebackers.
Canzeri brought explosive plays this spring. At Des Moines, he had runs of 39 and 15 yards. In the Kinnick scrimmage, he had a 22-yard run that set up a TD and scored on a short pass that he took for a 46-yard TD.
"Jordan had a really good spring," Ferentz said. "That’s encouraging. He got better as the spring went on. The last time you guys saw him was one of his better days. That’s encouraging. So, at least we have three guys who’ve been on the field and who’ve been tackled in real games and things like that. That’s a good starting point.
"With our lack of experienced depth at receiver right now, we have to use anybody we can use to move the ball down the field."
If you were handicapping number of carries, Weisman is your best bet. After that, it gets interesting and, really, who knows?Click here for an interactive look at the complete Top 45 series.