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Hawks put focus on RB, DL

[ 2 ] February 1, 2012 |

Several players who signed with the Hawkeyes on Wednesday could be counted on during Saturdays this fall.

Iowa signed 24 players on National Signing Day, including four defensive linemen and two running backs.

With 91.8 percent of the team’s rushing yards having moved on, incoming freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill might be thrown into the mix early.

“(Running back) was one of the obvious positions of need for us. We really thought it was critical to the point where we were considering signing three running backs,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Once we had commitments from Greg and Barkley, we felt comfortable moving forward with those two guys.”

Iowa has had a few issues with retaining running backs the last two seasons.

Last month, sophomore Marcus Coker, the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten with 1,384 yards, was released from his scholarship. Freshman Mika’il McCall, who started the 2011 season as Coker’s back-up, also left the program.

Freshman Jordan Canzeri started in the Insight Bowl and had 58 yards on 22 carries and six catches for 28 yards and a score.

D’Andre Johnson, Jason White and Damon Bullock also return, but none played significant time last season.

“I think the combination of (Garmon and Hill), plus what we have on campus, we feel pretty good about that,” Ferentz said.

Garmon (6-1, 200) and Hill (6-0, 210) come in decorated. Garmon has played in several national all-star games after a solid career at McDowell High School in Erie, Pa.

“He’s playing in his eighth All-Star Game today,” Ferentz said. “He’s a very positive young man, very talented young man.”

Hill was the ESPN Gatorade Player of the Year in the state after running for 2,493 yards as a senior at Cedar Falls. Hill originally committed to Iowa State, but switched to the Hawkeyes on Jan. 22.

“I think over a period of time, maybe he just felt — I don’t want to speak for him — but maybe he felt this style of offense might be better suited for him,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s probably as big a factor as anything.”

In addition, Nate Meier (6-2, 235) is expected to begin his Hawkeye career at running back this fall. Meier was an eight-man star, running for 2,494 yards and 57 touchdowns for Fremont-Mills.

“He’s really an interesting guy,” Ferentz said. “A guy that I think has a chance to play a couple different positions for us. I think he’d like to start at running back.

“We’ll put him there and see what happens.”

On the other side of the ball, this was the second-straight season Iowa said goodbye to three starting defensive linemen.

The returning starters are junior defensive tackle Steve Bigach and sophomore defensive end Dominic Alvis, who missed the final four games with injury. Those two combined for 54 tackles and 2½ sacks.

No one else returns with significant experience, but Ferentz doesn’t want to turn to true freshmen right away.

“I think it’s really paramount the guys on campus have the best chance to develop into starters for us,” Ferentz said. “That’s going to be really critical.”

However, Ferentz said he thought Faith Ekakitie (6-3, 275) and Jaleel Johnson (6-4, 300) had the size to come in and help the Hawkeyes immediately as true freshmen.

“I think playing time is realistic. Starting hopefully won’t be the case,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s a tough challenge on either side of the ball up front.”

Iowa also signed Drew Ott (6-4, 245) and Daumantas Venckus-Cucchiara (6-5, 230) as defensive linemen.

“Two of them are a little bigger and more developed than the other two, but I think all four have great upside,” Ferentz said.

Defensive line is usually a position that requires players to first gain size and experience before being thrown into the mix.

Iowa hasn’t had a true freshman log significant minutes on the defensive line since Christian Ballard in 2007.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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