It sure feels as though Mark Weisman will be Iowa's featured back in 2013.
On one hand, why not? Weisman speed squatted his way out of obscurity, going from walk-on fullback who left the Air Force Academy because of the strict regimen (he really hated making his bed a certain way) to Iowa's leading rusher in 2012 with 815 yards and eight TDs. At one point last season, during a stretch against Central Michigan and Minnesota, Weisman averaged more than 8 yards a carry.
He's an outstanding story. He's put himself in position to be Iowa's No. 1 running back this season.
At Big Ten media days in Chicago, coach Kirk Ferentz was asked:
Will Iowa remain in a "you know what we're going to do, stop us" mode? Or will Iowa diversify in Greg Davis' second season as offensive coordinator?
Ferentz says he could see Weisman getting 20 carries a game. That question is probably answered in how Weisman is used.
Key 2012 factor:†One thing to remember is Weisman's strength as a running back is his straight-ahead power. The video has been taken down, but Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle posted a YouTube of Weisman doing those speed squats. The strength coach doesn't do that unless he's impressed.
When nothing else worked for Iowa last season -- and that statement pretty much rang true -- Weisman and the O-line did. That combo pushed Iowa to 4-2 after a titanic effort in a double-OT victory at Michigan State.
Weisman rushed for 116 yards and the game-tying TD against the best defenses in the Big Ten. On the tying TD, Weisman suffered an ankle sprain. He played the next week against Penn State but was ineffective. He played the next week against Northwestern and suffered a torn groin. He sat out two games before finishing the season with 63 yards (3.94 a carry) at Michigan and 91 yards (3.14 on 29 carries) against Nebraska.
Weisman gained 70 percent of his yards (563) against Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Minnesota and Michigan State. What to read in that? It's three bowl teams and a top FCS school. How did those teams finish 2012? They finished with a combined 25-25 record.
Weisman came through in the crunchiest of crunch times at Michigan State and then he got hurt. A full season of Weisman? The way he plays the game -- straight ahead, bathed in contact -- can he make it through a full season.
Offseason factor: A new running backs coach arrived in Iowa City in February. Chris White was hired away from the Minnesota Vikings after four seasons there as a special teams assistant.
One of White's first focuses was building Weisman's running back skills.
"Weíre working on some things with Mark in terms of his flexibility," White said. "And what I look for in a running back are four things. Itís part of our deal that we talk about with them. Itís base, bend, balance, burst; four Bs, and weíre working on Mark with his bending. And he made a couple of jump cuts the other day in practice, I was like, wow.† I mean I didnít see that last year on film, and it just really . . . †itís step one here just to see the guys improving."
Weisman has bought into the chore (as you'd expect, his career goal after football is strength and conditioning, he's a goer, a doer, the "want" will never lack).
"I've been working on flexibility and ball skills," Weisman said. "You can never get good enough at anything. . . . I did a hot yoga session here and there, but we really don't have time for that with football. Flexibility is an emphasis. We're always stretching, always trying to get more flexible."
Other points of emphasis: hands (Weisman used to carry the ball with two hands, White wants him to secure the ball high and tight and use the offhand for stiffarm), cuts (getting a feel for the instinctive nature of the position).
Competition: It's heavy. Running back is the most competitive position Iowa has. Right now, Weisman (6-0, 236 junior) and junior Damon Bullock are the frontrunners. The offense has been written with them in mind. But we are talking Iowa running back, so sophomore Jordan Canzeri and redshirt freshmen Michael Malloy and Barkley Hill and true freshman LeShun Daniels shouldn't fall asleep during video study.
How much fullback could Weisman be looking at? During media day, he didn't have any idea. The one thing he did say was "yes." He'd be happy to do it. It's a different position and things happen much faster a couple of steps closer to the line of scrimmage, but Weisman is ego-less. He swears by a team-first mentality, and considering his story, you know it's genuine.
Why No. 3?: We could be talking about Iowa's leading rusher, a 20-carry per game back who could be capable of 1,200 yards and double-digit TDs.
Or we could be talking about a short-yardage specialist, a TD vulture. Or we could be talking about a fullback.
But think more the 20-carry back. Weisman goes into 2013 as Iowa's most experienced and proven offensive threat. That will have great pull on how Iowa's offense could look this season.
Outlook:†Weisman has 1,000-yard potential. He almost hit that mark last season.
Let's take a look at the Nebraska game. Weisman averaged just 3.14 yards on 29 carries, but he finished with 93 and Iowa had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter (the Cornhuskers won, 13-7). Iowa tried to impose its zone rush will on the Huskers. It wasn't enough to win the game.
How much of that will be Iowa's offense this season? Probably a high percentage. This is what Iowa does, can you stop it?
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