IOWA CITY, Iowa - While it received much less attention than the flurry of injuries that struck Iowa running backs in recent times, the position suffered with key health issues last season. A rushing attack that dominated early in the campaign limped to the finish line despite operating behind a strong offensive line.
Mark Weisman exploded out of the gate but wore down and suffered nagging injuries with his straight-ahead running style. Fellow tailbacks Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri also were nicked up at times. In the end, the Hawkeyes finished 50th nationally in rushing (179.9 yards per game) and their 4.2 yards per carry rated 49th, two categories in which they should have ranked higher.
The good news is Iowa returns its top nine rushers from a year ago. The group includes quarterback Jake Rudock, fullbacks Adam Cox and Macon Plewa, and wide receiver Damon Powell. With that firepower experiencing normal maturity, and an offensive line welcoming back three starters and anchored by left tackle Brandon Scherff, the running attack appears to be an obvious team strength.
Let's take a closer look at Iowa's running back position heading into 2014:
Tailback Contenders: Mark Weisman (6-0, 240), redshirt senior; Damon Bullock (6-0, 205), true senior; Jordan Canzeri (5-9, 192), redshirt junior; LeShun Daniels (6-0, 230), true sophomore; Jonathan Parker (5-8, 180), redshirt freshman; Akrum Wadley (5-11, 180), redshirt freshman; C.J. Hilliard (5-10, 185), true freshman.
Fullback Contenders: Adam Cox (5-11, 230), redshirt junior; Macon Plewa (6-2, 236), redshirt junior.
The Favorites: Weisman and Cox are the incumbents and there's little reason to think they will be replaced as starters.
Breakdown: There's a theory out there that says Iowa uses multiple running backs because it doesn't have one complete enough to be the man. Perhaps there's some truth in that idea but it fails to tell the whole story.
Yes, it would be nice to roll out Shonn Greene and watch him go. But those backs are rare and the game is changing collegiately and professionally. The workhorse back is being replaced by two- and three-back committees.
Iowa boasts talent here. Weisman crashed forward for 425 yards through the first three games last season to sit among the national leaders. The numbers came against lesser competition, however, which made the work load questionable.
Weisman carried the ball 85 times in the first three contests, including an unnecessary 30 totes against Missouri State in Week 2. Outside of the Big Ten opener at Minnesota, where he totaled 147 yards on 24 attempts, Iowa's battering ram put up pedestrian numbers the rest of the season.
The Hawkeyes coaches have talked this offseason of lightening Weisman's early-season load to keep him fresh throughout the campaign. Let's hope they stick to that plan and not pound him 80 times against Northern Iowa and Iowa State. He's a nice weapon in the power running game when healthy.
Bullock might be Iowa's most well-rounded back. The Texan caught 20 passes for 173 yards in 2013 while adding 467 yards on the ground. He also blocks well.
Bullock appears to be an ideal third-down back. You can send him out on routes or keep him in to block. He also could be effective on first and second down.
Canzeri shows well when given a chance. He's a nice change-of-pace back to Weisman's power as he showed by averaging 6.5 yards per carry in totaling 481 last season.
Daniels never got his feet under him as a true freshman but should be better now that they're wet. He's a power back but might have a little more wiggle than does Weisman.
Parker and Wadley are smaller, quick-to-the hole backs like Canzeri. They add much-needed depth at a collision absorbing position and could find roles should an injury occur. They also could be assets on special teams.
Hilliard appears to be destined for a redshirt unless there's a rash of health problems.
It's hard to predict how this whole thing is going to shake out with Weisman, Bullock, Canzeri and possibly Daniels vying for playing time. It's unlikely carries will be distributed evenly.
This is why the coaches make the big bucks and I beg for your subscription money for summer vacation in Door County, Wisconsin. The staff must find a way to get the most out of what it has. Like basketball, it might not be a bad idea to play match-ups.
They key in the non-conference portion of the schedule will be defining roles and sharing the workload so everyone stays fresh and healthy. Having all the weapons and showing a lot of looks in the first four games will keep conference opponents guessing when they game plan
RWI (Rob Worry Index): Faint (other choices are Extreme, Significant, Moderate and Absent).