Night of the fullback

Iowa fullbacks Cox and Plewa happiest doing the dirty work

Marc Morehouse
Published: September 17 2013 | 6:39 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 8:35 pm in
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IOWA CITY -- The "how they do football" industry has exploded over the last few years. There are entire websites devoted to X-and-O talk, including the heralded Smart Football. Former Iowa defensive back Matt Bowen writes posts for Bleacher Report that are filled with strategy and technique.

And then there are Iowa fullbacks Adam Cox and Macon Plewa. The game is simple for them.

"When they [coaches] call 21 or 22 and we get in there and knock some people around and bring some physicality to this offense," said Cox, a walk-on from Chana, Ill. "It's a spread offense, but when we get in there, we want to do our part and make it a physical game."

The two stood side-by-side Tuesday and conducted interviews. Their answers weren't all that different.

"We at Iowa always take pride in being physical," said Plewa, a Franklin, Wis., native and walk-on who made the switch from linebacker last spring. "Whether it's a spread offense or not, we get in the game and we try to be as physical as possible."

Cox referred to "21" and "22" personnel. The first number counts the running backs in a formation. When it's a two, the fullback is on the field. In last week's victory at Iowa State, the Hawkeyes ran 22 personnel (the second "2" is the number of tight ends on the field) on 40 out of 83 plays. They ran 21 twice.

It was the night of the fullback.

"I'm glad you brought that up, because I tell you, both those guys are quietly doing a really good job," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We used them more Saturday than we have, but they've earned our confidence."

It does seem a bit redundant when you line up a fullback for Mark Weisman, the former fullback who made the switch to running back three games into the 2012 season and now is No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing after three weeks this season.

It was exactly what the Iowa staff wanted last week. The Hawkeyes ran 60 times against Iowa State. Weisman leads the nation in rush attempts with 85. The Hawkeyes are No. 3 with 161. Not a lot of teams use a fullback anymore and no one recruits them, but Iowa has two fullbacks and, so far, hasn't been shy about putting them on the field.

Sometimes, football is a game of speed. Sometimes, it's a game of scheme. All the time, it's a game of will.

But never mind all that stuff. You're not even sure these two want the ball. You're not even sure they know there's a ball out there.

"I'm fine with that," Cox said about the prospect of never seeing a carry or reception. "I'm not a very good talker, I don't like the spotlight. I'm fine with doing just what we're doing now. Running into people and, you know, knocking them down."

And Plewa, "I agree. We have a lot of athletes on this team. They're finding a lot of unique ways to use everyone. We're just accepting our role right now and whatever it takes, we'll do."

The fact that fullbacks were on the field for half of the offensive plays last week tells you their value. Their teammates notice the physical mentality the two bring and they appreciate it.

"I know playing fullback, it's tough out there," said Weisman, who has seen some time at fullback this season. "Quick reads, physical play. You're a heat-seeking missile every play, getting your head on people. But yeah, it's unbelievable what they do out there. They've done such a good job."

Quarterback Jake Rudock said the main job for Cox and Plewa is to "go out and clean stuff up." Rudock means blocking anyone who crosses their face. When Cox and Plewa head home to their apartment at night, "clean up" means picking up after Weisman.

Yes, the three are roommates.

"Sometimes, he doesn't clean up after himself," Plewa said with a laugh. "I'm just kidding."

This was a rare day in the sun for Iowa's fullbacks. Cox really doesn't enjoy the spotlight. Plewa joked freely. It's not often they talk in front of the cameras and that's OK.

Offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said they do their talking with their pads. That's how the position goes. Asked if it takes a mad man to play fullback, Scherff laughed and nodded.

"Yeah, look at those two over there," he said. "They just like going out and hitting people. They've been trying to prove something since they've been here and I think they have."

This is basically the cutting room floor. I don't always do this, but I thought you might enjoy more of Cox and Plewa, who, I imagine, breathe fire between the lines.

It's raw and unedited. The mistakes are mine and not the players or coaches.

Cox

I think we and the O-line love it, when they call 21 or 22 and we get in there and knock some people around and bring some physicality to this offense. It's a spread offense, but when we get in there, we want to do our part and make it a physical game.

Plewa -- We at Iowa always take pride in being physical. Whether it's a spread offense or not, we get in the game and we try to be as physical as possible.

Played more

P -- They said we wanted to get in a physical game and thought if we get in 22 or 21 personnel that both of us could bring that to the table.

P -- I knocked him down and I was in a bad position with my hands and feet and I'll try to work on that this week.

Living with Weisman

P -- It's fun. Sometimes, he doesn't clean up after himself. I'm just kidding. -- I'm taller than him, but he's a strong dude. He's definitely stronger than me. I just try to run in as hard as I can and lead the way for him.

Dirty work

C -- I'm fine with that. I'm not a very good talker, I don't like the spotlight. I'm fine with doing just what we're doing now. Running into people and, you know, knocking them down.

P -- I agree. We have a lot of athletes on this team. They're finding a lot of unique ways to use everyone. We're just accepting our role right now and whatever it takes, we'll do.

Pancakes

Smiles, shrugs

C -- We're competitive a little bit, yeah, but we're not worried about it. Just next play, do it again. That mentality.

Bet to see who gets to touch the ball first or carry it

P -- We joke around about it.

C -- We kind of joke about it every once in a while. But that's not the main thing we're worried about, really.

Blocking ever get old?

P -- It's football. I like doing it, especially when coach White gets really passionate about it. He tries to get us amped up before any big plays in practice and we kind of just go out there and have fun on Saturdays.

Watching the fullback

C -- You're kind of starting to see a few more fullbacks in the NFL, anyway. It's fun to watch other fullbacks play and you kind of always root for the fullback.

Any fullbacks you like

P -- I'm from Wisconsin, so I watch John Kuhn. The Packers use him in so many different ways, so I always look up to him coming in as a fullback. I know Cox is a big Ravens fan and he liked Leach and always brags he's the best.

C -- He is the Pro Bowler. He seems to know what he's doing.

Feel like linemen

C -- Kinda. It's different. They have stuff to get us the ball in different ways. It hasn't been working, so we've just stuck to what's working and that's blocking. -- If they call one of our numbers, I think both of us would be ready.

Weisman

Both FBs are my roommates.

Weightroom competition -- Cox has got me on bench, I know. They're both strong guys.

Cox -- He can. In spring ball, he got tons of carries. Cox is a good football player. -- Closer to Rockford.

I know playing fullback, it's tough out there. Quick reads, physical play. You're a heat-seeking missile every play, getting your head on people. But yeah, it's unbelievable what they do out there. They've done such a good job.

KF

I'm glad you broughtthat up, because I tell you, both those guys arequietly doing a really good job. Adam Cox, it's notthe Mark Weisman story, but it's kind of like that.He's some guy that walked on here from Chicago.Really a great kid, young guy. We were never surehe'd be big enough. Talked about trying to plughim in at linebacker or something like that.But last spring, I mentioned Boffeli andLowery a lot, but I tell you, he impressed me asmuch as anybody in the spring just what he did.Whatever he weighs at that given point, he uses it.He's a really great young guy. And Macon's thesame way. Macon went from linebacker over tofullback and picked it up, I think, amazingly well.So very quietly those guys are both doinga good job. We used them more Saturday than wehave. But they've earned our confidence.You know, back in the spring I felt reallygood about both guys and they're doing a nice job.Macon's doing a little bit more on special teamsthan Adam. But it gives us a really nice one-twopunch, and we know we can count on them

Listen, I'm notsaying it's the next Mark Weisman story. I'm notgoing down that street, but he's not bad back therearound the football. He's just a great young guy

Scherff

They love contact. They love to go down and hit people. They're not afraid, they're not going to shy away. We hear them hitting pads in practice. They celebrate after that. We can hear coach White. -- Films moments -- We look at those hits and have a good time. -- Mentality Mad man -- Yeah, look at those two over there. They just like going out and hitting people. They've been trying to prove soemthing since they've been here and I think they have.

Morris

They're not fun to hit. They're good players. Not many teams use a traditional fullback anymore. -- They're both excellent players. I try to avoid them when I can.

When a team has a fullback -- I think last year, MSU, PSU with a TE, CMU, OSU my freshman year, It's old school football.

Touch the ball -- Definitely, just a matter of time. -- Macon is an excellent pass catcher. He's a deceptively good athlete from what you'd assume. And Adam is the same way. His skill set parallels Mark's. Obviously, Mark is special, but Adam is an excellent athlete, too.

Rudock

They're hilarious. They just like to go hit people. That's the best part about them. Adam and Macon, they're just like, 'I know my assignment, but, hey, maybe a guy showed up, hit him in the mouth.' That's their job as fullbacks. They go out and clean stuff up.

Handing ball off or hitting in route -- Yes. In practice, they're out in route. In games, they're out in route. Sometimes, they're check-downs and sometimes they go a little deeper. It depends what the defense gives you. If the linebackers drop, throw it to the fullback, he'll put it away and run hard.

Vs. ISU -- That something that coach notices and he says, 'Hey, watch this real quick.' You might not have noticed it before, just because it's in traffic. When you do look and see it, it's fun to watch.

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