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Harty: Time to get excited about Iowa RBs

[ 0 ] April 10, 2013 |

Too bad life isn’t like spring football where you can sort of just start over every March with a clean slate and with an overwhelming sense of optimism.

Iowa assistant coach LeVar Woods said the word exciting, or a form of it, six times while addressing the media on Wednesday. And that was just in his opening statement.

Fellow assistant Chris White, one of three new additions to the Iowa coaching staff, toned it down just a little, only saying the word excited twice in his opening statement to the media.

But when asked to comment on the Iowa running backs, which is the position White now coaches at Iowa, along with special teams, he started by saying he was “super excited.”

White also three days earlier on Twitter proclaimed that Iowa had the best running back tandem in the country in reference to junior bruiser Mark Weisman and junior speedster Damon Bullock.

“Well, I just think that,” White said Wednesday when asked about his tweet. “First of all, they’re experienced players coming back.”

White then went on about how Weisman and Bullock, who rushed for 815 and 513 yards, respectively, last season, are both effective in their own way. The 236-pound Weisman provides the power dimension, while the 200-pound Bullock is the speedier of the two.

“I really believe that we’re going to wear people out, just with the style of our offense, the tempo of our offense,” said White, who spent the previous four seasons on the coaching staff of the Minnesota Vikings. “We’ve got two guys who can come in there and we won’t see any drop-off. Their production is going to be that high.”

That’s setting the bar incredibly high because the only thing the Iowa offense wore out last season was its fans from having to watch it sputter on a weekly basis while finishing 4-8 overall.

But it’s also refreshing to hear an Iowa assistant coach go out on a limb because it doesn’t happen very often under head coach Kirk Ferentz.

And it’s easier to picture Iowa wearing out defenses next season behind a two- or three-headed rushing attack rather than running past or around defenders in space.

It’s reasonable to think that the passing attack will be upgraded this fall because the players will have had more time to adjust to Greg Davis’ system and because it’s hard to picture it being any worse than last season, even with an inexperienced quarterback now leading the way.

But for Iowa to get back to its winning ways, look for it to happen on the ground because that’s what Iowa does best under Ferentz. Iowa’s biggest strengths for next season barring injuries will be the offensive line, running back and tight end. That has power football written all over it.

In addition to Weisman and Bullock, sophomore running back Jordan Canzeri also is fully recovered from a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last season.

“Jordan has a chance to be a really good back,” White said.

Junior left tackle Brandon Scherff also has a chance to be really good, if he isn’t already. The 2012 season began to unravel when Scherff and offensive guard Andrew Donnal both suffered season-ending leg injuries in the 38-14 loss to Penn State in the seventh game.

Iowa entered the Penn State game with a 4-2 record, including 2-0 in the Big Ten, and with an identity as a power-running team.

But the offense was never the same after that.

Injuries, including ones to both Weisman and Bullock, derailed the offense and eventually destroyed the season, with Iowa losing its last six games.

White was asked about Iowa’s recent rash of injuries to running backs and whether it would change his approach this spring. His answer made him sound more careful than paranoid.

“You need to be smart about how many times you tackle a ball carrier, and we are very conscious of that,” White said. “But it has nothing to do with the history of the running backs here. It’s about being smart in general.”

Some fans are hoping that Davis will use more spread formations next season because they’re convinced that’s the only way to keep pace these days. And while there are signs that could be happening, including Iowa having five receivers in the incoming recruiting class, the 2013 Iowa football team is still built for power more than finesse.

Baby steps are more likely to happen on offense. Look for Weisman and Bullock to line up in the same backfield together, but not always in the traditional I-formation where Weisman plays fullback. It’s time for Davis to get more creative with Weisman and Bullock because the offense can’t afford to have one of them posing little threat or no threat at all while standing on the sideline.

“You have to put the best players on the field,” White said.

Spring is the time to build confidence, hope and depth. It’s the time to experiment with new things and for different players to emerge.

But for the Hawkeyes, it’s also time to get back to doing what they do best, which is playing smash-mouth football. If that happens next fall, things could get exciting.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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