Sims Sprints Back Into RB Picture

In this column/feature, Senior Writer Rob Howe shines the spotlight on Hawkeye sophomore Damien Sims, who ripped off a 66-yard TD run against Illinois on Saturday. The Florida native recently returned to RB after starting the season at CB.

As fans and media members, perhaps we sometimes get too caught up in depth charts. You know, so-and-so should be the No. 2 defensive tackle or that guy should be the backup tight end.

Really, does it matter that much? The thing can change like the wind anyway.

Iowa's setup at running back defies the depth-chart craze. Albert Young clearly stands as the No. 1 tailback. But who's No. 2? Anybody?

It could be Marcus Schnoor. It could be Shonn Greene. It could be Damien Sims. It could be Marques Simmons. It could be Sam Brownlee. It depends on the day.

Again, it doesn't matter that much. The coaches seem to be doing a good job of selecting the right guy for the right situation (outside of Ohio State, where there wasn't a guy for that situation). And after last season, having a full stable of running backs is like looking at Halle Berry after having Earnest Borgnine staring you in the face for a prolonged period.

Sims almost certainly will get the call to be the No. 2 guy from message board posters this week. He's this week's Shonn Greene, who received the love in the earlier in the year.

That's OK. It's human nature. But again, trust the coaches to insert the right guy in at the right time based on what they see in practice.

That said, Sims definitely proved to be that guy on Saturday after Young left the game with cramping from dehydration. The true sophomore piled up 81 yards on just six carries, including an impressive 66-yard TD run.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said before the season that he liked the diverse talents of his backs. He must have been referring to speed when thinking of Sims, who looked like he was shot out of a cannon on his scoring jaunt.

Sims also should be applauded for the selflessness he has shown since coming onto campus last fall. Physically, his body screamed for a redshirt last season, but he pulled it off in order to help an injury plagued backfield. This year, he switched to cornerback when starter Antwan Allen was suspended.

A few weeks ago, he returned to running back. And he's delivered long TD sprints in each of the team's last two home games.

"I felt like if I stayed at cornerback, they would have to limit their calls for me because it was tough," Sims said. "I only had like a week to learn the defense. I felt like I would hurt the team by not knowing what I was doing."

Sims said he and Ferentz discussed his situation on a daily basis. And once Allen returned in Week 2, Sims felt like he was kind of in the same situation he resided in at running back – seeing spot duty or limited action in blowouts.

"Some days I would come (to practice) kind of happy," Sims said. "Some days, I was just maintaining a little. Coach always left it up to me. He always told me I was the type of player that was able to do both. I told him that I'd like to go back to offense if I was going to be sitting on the bench anyway in the big games."

As you'll read, Sims isn't a guy lacking for self confidence. Despite the stockpile of talent at running back, he welcomes the competition.

"I'm trying to be an every-down player," Sims said. "Albert knows that. Me and Albert have gotten a lot closer from last year to this year. We're always pushing each other. He knows he has to come to practice and work hard just like I do.

"Shonn is working hard. Marques Simmons is working hard. Brownlee is working hard. Everybody is working hard so you have to bring you're A game every day to practice. If you miss a couple of practices, you might not be starting no more because everybody else is making plays. That's pretty much how it boils down to. We'll see how it plays out."

Sims felt like he was in the running back mix before switching to CB. And he never really lost that desire to carry the ball.

"(CB) was a natural position because I played it in high school and a lot of my big scholarship offers were for that," Sims said. "Miami wanted me to play corner. Florida State wanted me to play corner. It was a matter of me wanting to play running back. It was more natural for me. That's pretty much what it boiled down to."

Sims, cousin to former Hawkeye C.J. Jones, rushed for a gaudy 4,940 yards and 64 touchdowns during his prep career at Leonard High in Boca Raton, Fla. He earned first-team all-state honors.

But since he arrived on campus at Iowa, speculation has swirled that he would eventually switch to corner. Most of the talk was fueled by his physical stature.

Sims weighed 170 pounds when he joined the Hawkeyes and he was planning on redshirting. He has bulked up to a healthy 193 and looks every bit the person that can carry the ball in major college football.

"They always say that's small," Sims said. "But if you're only 5-9 and weigh 193, that's pretty big. I'm the same size as (Wisconsin RB) Brian Calhoun. And he's an alright back. I hate when they say, "Oh, he's a small back." I'm a shorter back. You can say that."

Sims also said he's the fastest of the Iowa backs, being timed at an electronic 4.53-second, 40-yard dash on grass. Charles Godfrey and Herb Grigsby are the only Hawkeyes to run the distance faster.

"Coach (Chris) Doyle told me I was one of the best players to come through here as far as talent wise," Sims said. "He said he never saw a player go from offense to defense and not lose a step. He said that I could be an NFL cornerback for eight years or be a running back for four or five. It was just a matter of what I wanted to do. He just told me to keep working hard."

Sims should receive a chance to pursue his dream of playing running back. His sacrifices for the team are recognized by the coaches. And it's not like this guy can't play the position.

In fact, don't be terribly surprised to see Sims playing running back and cornerback in the future. He welcomes the idea.

"That was the original plan," Sims said. "Coach Ferentz said that I was that type of player that could be playing both. It's up to them. I would do it just to get on the field. I'm a football player. It don't matter where I've got to play."

And remember, try not worrying so much about who's No. 2 at running back. Sims doesn't.

"I was (always) in the mix at running back," he said. "I felt like I was competing. Everybody was competing. If you miss a practice or you get hurt or something, it's like you drop down because somebody is balling whether it's Brownlee, Simmons or somebody else making plays. I wasn't really worried about the depth chart."

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