IOWA CITY, Ia. - Kirk Ferentz joked about switching to the wishbone offense last fall. He'd been asked how he was going to use the large stable of running backs expected on his roster in 2010.
Hey, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to run some bone, wildcat or option. If everyone can stay healthy through the spring and summer camps, Ferentz and the staff will have some decisions to make in their offensive backfield.
Iowa welcomes back its top two rushers from the Orange Bowl Championship 2009 season – Adam Robinson (181-834, 5 TDs) and Brandon Wegher (162-641, 8 TDs). Robinson will be a redshirt sophomore next fall, while Wegher will be a true sophomore.
Adding to the equation will be Jewel Hampton, who rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns on 91 carries in 2008 as a true freshman. He'll be coming off a knee repair suffered last summer when he was No. 1 on the depth chart.
Iowa loves to run the ball, but it could prove challenging to get enough touches for three talented, experienced backs. And, there are possibilities behind him.
Jeff Brinson enters his sophomore season (that makes four in the sophomore class if you're counting at home) after being second on the depth chart last spring. He will try to put a case of asthma and the injury bug behind him in '10.
Moving down the line, Brad Rogers pushed for playing time in '09 as a true freshman when Robinson and Wegher missed action. Iowa preserved his red shirt, but he received valuable experience with first – and second-team reps last fall.
Incoming recruit Marcus Coker posted some eye-popping numbers during his Maryland prep career, but it will be tough for the kid to break through the experience in front of him and he'll likely red shirt. Paki O'Meara has been a great soldier in Iowa's rebirth the last few years, but his impact will be on special teams.
You can bet on arriving freshman DeAndre Johnson, who is coming off an ACL tear as a prep senior, red shirting in his first campaign on campus.
Let's take a look a possible running back depth chart for 2010 remembering that injuries have a history of changing it:
1) Adam Robinson – This might raise an eyebrow on some of you, but that's OK. I was on the A-Rob bandwagon early and don't see a need to hop off now. Yes, his pedigree trails guys like Hampton, Wegher, Brinson and Coker, but he's proven the most on the collegiate gridiron among all of those mentioned.
The Des Moines Lincoln product isn't a burner. He really doesn't do anything great. He's just solid. He runs hard with nice vision and can move a pile.
Robinson put himself in the mix to be Shonn Greene's caddy in 2008, but lost the spot to Hampton. He admitted that he needed to improve his blocking and knowledge of the system. He did all of that and more in '09 and that was enough for me to put him at the top of the chart heading into the new season.
2A) Jewel Hampton – The Indiana back looked poised to follow in Greene's footsteps before suffering a season-ending knee injury last summer. He appeared bulked up during practices at the Orange Bowl and will be out to prove his true freshman season was not a fluke.
I like Hampton a lot. He shows a nice burst to the edge and can run up inside as well. The question for me now, as it was going into last season, is can he be "the guy", or in this backfield "a guy"?
Hampton performed well in spelling Greene, but he's not been the feature back and faced fresh college defenses very often.
2B) Brandon Wegher – I can hear it already at rumor central – Psst, Wegher is changing positions. Don't bet on it. This kid is too valuable an asset with the ball in his hands.
I don't think Wegher will get 15-20 carries a game if Robinson and Hampton are healthy. I could see him toting it 5-10 times during a given game and be targeted 3-5 times in the passing game. He'll also be back on kickoffs because he's a threat to take it the distance every time.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Wegher in the same backfield with Robinson or Hampton. Coaches could put the Sioux City Heelan product in motion, split him out or slide him in the slot. The possibilities are intriguing.
3) Jeff Brinson – The prized recruit from Florida has flashed his ability at Iowa but just can't seem to stay healthy. Breathing issues due to asthma cost him most of his true freshman year.
Brinson possesses the ability to help the Hawkeyes. The issue now is whether or not he can jump the depth ahead of him. He's still not a bad insurance policy if there are injuries or something else occurs that moves him up the chart. He might have to prove himself on special teams.
4) Brad Rogers – I heard some good things about the back from Ohio when he took quality reps late last season. I think he might have been in the same position in which Robinson stood as a true freshman in that he needed to show he could do the little things a little better.
Rogers has the spring and summer to show he can take the next step. If he does that, he could be a wildcard in this mix. He likely will have to earn his stripes on special teams as have so many others that have come before him.
5) Paki O'Meara – The former walk-on from Cedar Rapids Washington has earned his scholarship by plugging the gaps at running back and performing well on special teams. The talented accumulated ahead of him at the RB position likely will lead to few, if any, carries other than garbage time.