Reese Strickland/USA Today

2017 Iowa Spring Football Preview: Running Backs

A projection, evaluation, and analysis of Iowa's running back group.

RUNNING BACK

STARTER: AKRUM WADLEY
BACK-UP: TOKS AKINRIBADE
OTHERS: MARCEL JOLY, TOREN YOUNG
INCOMING: IVORY KELLY-MARTIN, KYSHAUN BRYAN

2016 GRADE: A-

ANALYSIS: The Iowa backs got the same grade this season as they did the season before when they were able to use all three of Jordan Canzeri, LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley because of the assortment of injuries. This time it was just Daniels and Wadley in a tag-team situation and both topping 1,000 yards on the ground.

The absence of Derrick Mitchell at times showed a glaring weakness between the two in terms of their ability to pass block, though LeShun did improve in that area throughout the year. Wadley also became a weapon in the passing game, but as a passing target and not as a blocker. 

Either way, this was the strongest unit on the offense, perhaps the team. They lose Daniels this time around so there's a lot of production to replace, meaning more opportunities for Wadley and an opening for a new body to emerge. 

OUTLOOK: I think until someone else steps up and proves themselves, and that is very important to the Iowa staff, Akrum Wadley will be the workhorse and bellcow of the group. I do think it needs to become at least a tag-team effort in ways, just because Wadley does not have the bulk or the build to take a lot of pounding and attention. It's important for Wadley to have a sidekick to help him stay healthy. He's not built to be a three-down back.

The first in line for that alternative role to Wadley will be Toks Akinribade. He has sophomore eligibility after skipping out on a redshirt this past year. Akinribade is probably the closest thing to LeShun Daniels on the roster so it makes a lot of sense in that regard. He might have a bit more explosion and breakaway speed than LeShun actually but probably lacks the vision, strength, and understanding that Daniels had at the end of his career. Footwork is an area of weakness that still needs to be figured out as well. But there's a lot of potential in the legs and hands of Akinribade. 

Joly has yet to see any significant time in the backfield in his career. He'll be a junior and maybe he can crack the lineup if he devotes himself as a blocker and can become a third down back. That's how Derrick Mitchell found playing time and the field early on. That should be the path that Joly tries to emulate. 

Toren Young will be a redshirt freshman after sitting out last year. On top of that, his health wasn't at 100 percent for parts of the season as well. He missed practices at different points of the year and was not a participant in Tampa for bowl practices. He was not dressed. The offseason should be about getting healthy, learning the playbook more and more, doing what he can to be more durable, and getting himself ready for action. Young may have to play this year. 

I like both of the incoming frosh. Kelly-Martin reminds me a lot of Canzeri and Kyshaun Bryan is one of the more talented backs that they have brought in over the past handful of years in my opinion. Bryan has had injury concerns throughout his high school career so it would not surprise me to see them be careful and cautious with him and maybe decide to use a redshirt on him. I do think one will at least get a few snaps this upcoming season so they can separate their eligibility by a year. 

QUOTES

"We started getting on to Kyshaun Bryan in December and evaluating him and the next component was we did a lot of evaluation in that dead period. A lot of it down in Tampa.
The next step was to get in front of him and try to learn more about him and the kind of person he was. He's got an unbelievable mom and dad, tremendous people. He's an impressive young man and we think he's going to fit really well, his running style fits well with what we do and Ivory is a different type running back, but I think that's good, diversity with the way they approach things and we were impressed and got a chance to get in front of him a week ago Monday, got to meet his mom and dad, come out of a championship level program, too. I think it's going to be a great fit for us. Excited about that." - Kirk Ferentz

Brian Ferentz is going to coach running backs. Last man standing. So that's the plan right now, yeah. - Kirk Ferentz

"Kind of curious here. Switching seats basically in all regards. Tim Polasek most recently coached backs as coordinator, so you can do the math on that one. But I kind of had an epiphany a couple weeks ago laying in bed. I mentioned Joe Moore earlier, Joe Moore was the running back coach at the University of Pittsburgh in March, 1981. A guy, Joe Pendry, who was a line coach there and ended up being a long time coach in the NFL, finished up at Alabama. So Joe Pendry went to Michigan State, took a grad assistant with him.
I was out actually looking for a job at that point. I was going to try to get a GA job. I was close to taking one at Toledo, and showed up at Joe's house that Thursday night and told him I was going to take a job at Toledo as a defensive GA. I got a $1500 offer from that guy at Toledo. So, anyway, I was going to do that.

He said, forget that, I just became the line coach. So Joe Pendry left, Joe went from being the high school coach that they hired, coach Joe hired in '76. He went from that to running backs coach to offensive line in one day. It was a one-day switch. So I got to thinking about his preparation for that, and, you know, Joe, for my money, he was the best line coach that ever lived. You know, I think both guys mentioned it. None of us were prepared for any of the jobs we've had. That's part of growth. It's part of moving forward. So to me it gets back to good coaches can coach. The quality of the candidates, again, just outstanding, and I feel great about Kelton and Tim in their versatility." - Kirk Ferentz


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