First, let's start with the ball carriers.
LOSSES: Sam Brownlee and Champ Davis
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Albert Young, Damian Sims, Shonn Greene, Dana Brown, Tom Busch, Jordan McLaughlin and Eddie Williams.
NUTS & BOLTS: Albert Young did not have the kind of 2006 season that he envisioned. Young was coming off of a 2005 campaign that saw him lead the league in rushing in conference games, in addition to gaining over 1,300 yards on the ground in all games. Young had 779 net yards rushing in 11 games 2007 and averaged a respectable 4.4 yards per carry, but those numbers are well below his and outside expectations. He was hampered a bit by injuries during the season. When healthy, Young has proven to be one of the best backs in the Big Ten, and he can also catch the ball out of the backfield; he was fourth on the team with 30 receptions last season. There is no reason that Young won't be able to have a better year in 2007 than he did in 2006.
Damian Sims was a fan favorite last year, because he could do some of the things that Young could not. Sims is Iowa's biggest home run threat, and he broke off a few long runs again last year, as he did in 2005. Sims did have some ball control issues at times last year, which underscores why Young is the starter. If Sims can get to the point where those issues are well in his past, and if both he and Young stay healthy this year, they should form one very formidable duo, perhaps the best running back tandem in the Big Ten.
Shonn Greene flirted with the defense during Alamo Bowl practices, but the decision was made to move him back to running back. He is a punishing runner that also has good top end speed. To be honest, Greene is a rare combination of talents, which is why Iowa hopes it can redshirt him this year, setting him up to be the featured ball carrier in 2008 and 2009.
Dana Brown hopes to challenge Greene for that role in those seasons, and he will likely get the third back's carries this year. He too struggled with some ball security issues at times last year, but he also shows some great promise. Greene and Brown might just continue Iowa's two-pronged running attack into the future of Iowa football.
At fullback, Tom Busch returns for his senior season. Busch is arguably the best blocking fullback in the Big Ten, which makes him one of the best in the nation. He also proved to be a spot pass catching option last year and showed good hands on the balls thrown his way. But he will earn his keep by blowing up opposing defensive ends and linebackers, as he has since he joined the backfield a few years ago. Jordan McLaughlin and Eddie Williams will spell Busch when he needs a blow.
LOSSES: Scott Chandler, Ryan Majerus,
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Tony Moeaki, Brandon Myers, A.J. Edds, Michael Sabers, Lucas Cox
It's time for the Tony Moeaki era to begin. You have seen me write about him and/or heard me talk about him for some time now. Moeaki can create mismatches on linebackers as well as safeties, and he should get more balls thrown his way this year for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that Scott Chandler doesn't have any more eligibility. Chandler hauled in 117 passes in three years as Iowa's starting tight end, which is a lot. He was Drew Tate's favorite target, and often times an outlet that Tate would quickly check down to and, if the truth be told, would sometimes force balls into. Moeaki is bigger and faster than Chandler, and has a chance to be a first day draft selection in the 2009 NFL draft if he stays healthy, because he is going to do some damage and he is also an exceptional blocker. Don't be surprised if we still don't see Moeaki lining up out of the ‘H' back position at times this year, because of how well he blocks in the running game. But I expect him to see a lot of balls thrown his way.
Brandon Myers might be the sleeper on this team. People don't know about him yet, but they will after this coming season. He is an exceptional runner who might have the best hands on the entire team. My friend Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette likes to put tight ends into a couple of buckets; deer's and tool boxes. Tool boxes are players more along the lines of Ryan Majerus; guys that can block and make a catch here and there as an escape valve or a surprising go to guy on occasion. Deer's are the tight ends that can run and catch, like Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler and Tony Moeaki. Myers is a deer, and you will get a chance to see that this coming year. He was the last player to be offered a scholarship a few years ago, a signing day surprise. He will surprise many fans this coming year.
Not much is known about Michael Sabers or Lucas Cox with regards to their development during their time on Iowa's campus, and barring injuries this year, I would be surprised if either player saw significant minutes, due to the stars in waiting that are ahead of them.
2007 IMPACT PREDICTIONS
1. Albert Young
2. Tony Moeaki
3. Damian Sims
4. Brandon Myers