IOWA CITY, Ia. Damon Bullock held court in one section of Iowa’s football practice field Monday, while teammate Brad Rogers did likewise about 50 feet away.
Which one of you will be the starting running back on Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field?
How does coordinator Greg Davis’ offense differ from Ken O’Keefe’s?
Do you believe in a running back curse, hex or jinx?
Reporters pelted the co-No. 1 running backs with similar questions during the Hawkeyes’ annual media day — while Jordan Canzeri hung out almost by himself.
“They’re the story right now,” said Canzeri, who was Iowa’s top running back in the Insight Bowl against Oklahoma last December.
Can Canzeri elbow his way into the picture by Sept. 1?
“That’s what I’m shooting for,” said Canzeri, who underwent ACL surgery on his right knee last April. “I think that’s realistic, in my eyes, anyway.”
Given Iowa’s lack of depth at running back, Canzeri isn’t the only one dreaming that he’ll contribute during non-conference play — or at least by the time the Big Ten season opens Sept. 29.
“Never say never,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Jordan’s been working hard.”
Whoever starts won’t find his name on lengthy Heisman Trophy watch lists. Bullock has 20 career rushing yards, and at 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, Rogers is more fullback than tailback.
“We certainly have enough talent out there, and hopefully we can bridge the experience gap as well,” Ferentz said. “Everybody looks pretty good right now, but you’d expect that.
“Over the course of time, usually the picture becomes a little bit more clear, and then the other obvious part of it — and the most important part of it — is how players perform in games. And that’s something you just can’t simulate in practice.”
Bullock played as a true freshman last season, alternating between running back and receiver.
“Going into training camp last year, I was just trying to make my name,” Bullock said. “I was one of the last recruits. People didn’t expect much from me.”
Now, he shares the top line on the depth chart at running back, a position that rarely seems settled in Iowa City.
Marcus Coker and Mika’il McCall transferred at the end of last season after both served suspensions. De’Andre Johnson was kicked off the team last week.
“I don’t believe in curses,” Bullock said. “Stuff has happened, but at the same time, take a look at Brad Rogers — he’s still here because he kept his head on straight. If Brad can do it, everybody can do it.
“I’ve stayed out of trouble 19 years. I can do it three more.”
Throw in happenstances that prevented other running backs such as Brandon Wegher and Adam Robinson from living up to their headlines, and it’s certainly a head-scratching phenomenon.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a jinx,” said Rogers, who missed part of the 2011 season while recovering from a heart ailment. “People just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Wrong place, wrong time translates to so much tailback inexperience that true freshmen Barkley Hill and Greg Garmon are possibilities.
“Everything is open right now,” Ferentz said.
That even includes Canzeri, whose flashes of quick-footed shiftiness last season left fans wanting more.
“The doctors have told me that I’ve been one of the fastest recoveries they’ve had,” said Canzeri, a 5-9, 180-pound sophomore. “They initially told me it’d be around six months, but I’m just a little past four (months), and I’m running good and cutting good.
“Now it’s a matter of getting my strength back.”
Canzeri seemed to be a cinch No. 1 tailback in the spring, especially after an eye-opening 58 yards on 22 carries against the Sooners.
“Throwing him into that Insight Bowl — he’s about the tiniest guy on our team,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “He got battered around like a pinball in that game, but he literally got back up every single time and ran to the huddle like it didn’t faze him.
“That was impressive.”
A recovery by Canzeri would add the latest chapter to Iowa’s Tale of Tailbacks.
“Don’t count it out,” Canzeri said. “There’s been a lot of crazy things happen at that position the past few years.”
SLEEPER SUSPENDED: Backup safety Collin Sleeper will open the season suspended for an undetermined number of games, coach Kirk Ferentz said Monday.
“This is just for violations of things in the past,” Ferentz said.
Athletic director Gary Barta confirmed last December that a player was sent home from Arizona before the Insight Bowl for breaking a team rule.
The player was not identified, but Sleeper was not with the team during the bowl game.
“It’s between the coaches and I,” Sleeper, a two-game starter in 2011, said Monday.
“I have to do whatever I can to put myself in position to play and do everything I can to get back in their good graces.”
TICKETS: Tickets remain for Iowa’s games against Northern Illinois, Central Michigan and Purdue.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football