Spring 2004 Analysis: Running Backs and Full Backs

Last spring, Iowa felt really good about it's situation at running back, with both Fred Russell and Jermelle Lewis returning to Iowa's two deep. Then Lewis went down with a serious injury, and the luxury evaporated. Now in 2004, the Hawkeyes feel good about Lewis and Albert Young as their solid 1-2 punch at running back. Though Young has not been tested at the collegiate level, everything we have heard about him for the past two seasons points to him as a star in the making.

Last spring, Iowa felt really good about it's situation at running back, with both Fred Russell and Jermelle Lewis returning to Iowa's two deep.

The duo combined for nearly 2,000 yards rushing, the best such two-man total in recent Iowa history, if not the best ever.

They were a bit of ‘thunder and lightning' when they were paired, something Iowa fans were able to get a great glimpse of during the 2002 season.

It's hard to erase the memories of Lewis running wild at Michigan and Minnesota, and who would want to. Russell gained 1,200+ yards in 2002, though he did miss a bit of time during the course of the season, otherwise he might have made an assault on Tavian Banks' single-season record.

Russell missed games against Utah State and Wisconsin, and he also missed the second half against Iowa State after gaining nearly 150-yards in the first half. He missed significant portions of the Michigan and Minnesota games as well.

It seemed like another year of thunder and lightning at this stage of the game last March.

But then Jermelle Lewis would injure his knee, and would have surgery to repair his ACL.

All of the sudden, the Hawkeyes were very thin at an important position, with only Russell having any real game experience.

That injury was partly behind Kirk Ferentz's decision to scrap the traditional spring game in favor of a controlled practice with a bit of a scrimmage mixed in, something that will likely be the case going forward.

Iowa was very fortunate in 2003, from the standpoint that Fred Russell did not miss any playing time due to injury. He had nearly 300 touches on offense and he was able to rack up more than 1,300 yards on the ground, the third best total in school history.

He did that behind an inexperienced offensive line and while facing defenses that were set on stacking the box with eight and sometimes nine defenders (see Iowa State).

Lewis came back midway through the Big Ten season, though he was not the same player we saw in 2002, but that is to be expected. He did however play well down the stretch and based on what we know now, he is at or near 100% as Iowa conducts its spring workouts.

THE CHALK

Lewis is the clear #1 heading into spring drills. The 5-foot-11, 217-pounder was featured in our first Spring Cleaning profile, so to get the latest on Jermelle, click on that link.

It would also appear as if the #2 RB is slotted as well.

THE CONTENDERS

RS frosh Albert Young (5-11, 207-pounds) was #2 on the depth chart early last fall before breaking a bone in his lower leg, ala Mike Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, prior to the start of last season.

Young might have been able to play later in the year, but with the miraculous recovery that Lewis had, there was no need to burn Young's redshirt.

Hew as named New Jersey offensive Player of the Year as a senior, as he rushed for 2,180 and scored 32 touchdowns. He finished his prep career as the all-time leading rusher in South Jersey (5,411 yards). He was the first running back in South Jersey to rush for over 2,000 yards in two seasons.

Young is a solid pass catcher coming out of the backfield, something that will help the Iowa football program for years to come, as defenses will not be able to key on the just the run when he is in the game. If there is one area where every young running back needs work, it's in pass blocking. Though we are not saying that this is an area of weakness for Young, it stands to reason that he will need to work on that area of his game.

You might remember that Young was a one-time commit to Wisconsin. That was before he visited Iowa City and then switched his allegiance to the black and gold. Iowa LB coach Darrell Wilson is a New Jersey native and he played a significant role in helping Iowa land Young.

As good as we feel Jermelle Lewis is, and we think he has as much talent as any Iowa running back over the last 25 years or more, Young might be even better. The sky is the limit with Young as far as potential, and when you talk with the Iowa coaching staff about Albert, their eyes light up.

One coach told me in February that Young has a chance to be among the best ever at Iowa, if he stays healthy. When talking about running backs, you always have to add that caveat.

Behind Young is where things thin out.

Junior transfer Marques Simmons will be in the mix at tailback this year as will Marcus Schnoor.

Simmons is from the Quad Cities and signed with Nebraska out of high school.

There is some irony there.

Simmons played on a high school team that did not win that much, and Simmons said publicaly that one of the reason he chose Nebraska over Iowa was that he wanted to win at the next level. At the time of his commitment, Iowa had just completed the 2000 season with a record of 3-9 after 1-10 and 3-8 seasons the two years before that.

Simmons redshirted his freshman year, so during the 2002 season, the first year where he played on the college level, Iowa went 11-2 and made a BCS appearance while Nebraska finished the season with a record of 7-7.

Simmons was listed at 5-8, 175 pounds last fall after coming over from Nebraska. He is listed at 5-8, 206 on the spring roster.

Schnoor saw some action last year in mop up duty for the Hawkeyes and played admirably.

The junior from DeWitt was a fan favorite and he always ran hard with the ball. However, for him to crack the two-deep this year, or at least, the fall two-deep, some bad things are going to have to happen to the players already listed, something no fan wants to see.

THE FULLBACKS

Carl Jackson told attendees at Iowa's 2004 version of FanFest that the fullback at Iowa is a ‘glorified guard', taking on a lot of the dirty work in blocking schemes.

Gone is senior Edgar Cervantes who had 29 carries last year and averaged better than four yards per carry. Those are Cadillac numbers for many fullbacks, and Cervantes was a superb blocker.

The first two deep of the spring lists Champ Davis (6-2, 237-pounds) as the #1 with Aaron Mickens (5-10, 232) as the backup.

But as Lee Corso might say, ‘Not so fast, my friend'.

Davis is getting reps with the tight ends this spring, and though there has been no formal announcement of a position change, do not be shocked if Davis sees some minutes at that position next year. He might also see time out of the fullback position, or as an ‘H' back.

The point is, he is just too talented to not have on the field somewhere, something Jackson alluded to at FanFest.

AJ Johnson (6-0, 234) seemingly has made the move to FB and former LM Tom Busch (5-11, 231) is also getting some reps at FB this spring.

FB is a very important position for Iowa, so if the coaches feel that Mickens, Johnson or Busch do not give them a better look than what Davis would at the position, Champ might stay at FB this year.

But if Davis proves to be too good to not get minutes at TE, and one of the other FB's can step up and do an adequate job, a new face might emerge.

If that sounds like a cop out, it's not. It's spring football, and when you have position changes with some talented athletes, you never quite know what to expect.

The coaching staff, at the least, feels comfortable with Lewis & Young at RB with Davis as the FB. If another FB can step in and do the job, it just gives the Hawkeye offense another dimension in the passing game if Davis can make the move to TE.


Hawkeye Insider Top Stories