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Spring checkup: Iowa Hawkeyes

4/9/2015

Information out of the Iowa Hawkeyes often trickles out in very small doses. So when the team has its usual once-weekly media availability during the spring as it did on Wednesday, every tidbit feels like news.

Iowa made two assistant coaches available to talk, and one of them was Chris White, who oversees the running backs and special teams. Running back is an important area for the Hawkeyes this offseason. After two years of leaning heavily on Mark Weisman, who was tough as nails but who also had some glaring flaws, can Iowa get back to producing a powerful rushing attack?

White told reporters that senior Jordan Canzeri is the lead back right now, with junior LeShun Daniels not far behind. Canzeri has always had talent but has never really seized the job outright. He ran for 120 yards on just 12 carries in the TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Tennessee, however, and White has been preaching to him to keep attacking. He and other Hawkeyes coaches visited UCLA this offseason and took away a catch phrase the Bruins coaches used: "Get your eyes to the end zone."

"Simple as that sounds, guys get in space, and they’re looking around and who is going to tackle me, right?" White said. "You’re in open space. Get your eyes to the end zone and then figure out who is going to attack you. But these guys are weaving around. It drives me crazy. We’ve got to get that fixed, and that’s one thing that Jordan is working on.”

Daniels is load at 225 pounds, which is 10 pounds less than he weighed last year. Iowa could have a thunder-and-lightning style with him and Canzeri.

"LeShun is a workhorse type of guy that has a little bit more speed and can jump cut," White said. "He can hit a little bit longer run, and he can make a guy miss in space a little bit more than Mark [Weisman] can, I think.”

Sophomore Akrum Wadley also showed flashes of brilliance last season and could be a factor. I know this: No matter how much C.J. Beathard could potentially help the downfield passing game, Iowa isn't going to win the West Division unless its rushing game produces substantially better than last year, when the team averaged 4.1 yards per carry (which was ninth in the Big Ten). The ground game still has to be the bread and butter in Iowa City.

More expected from receives: Iowa receivers coach Bobby Kennedy also talked on Wednesday. Wideout is an intriguing position this year for the Hawkeyes, who could have a star on their hands in Tevaun Smith. But after that, things get more interesting for a group that has underperformed the past few years.

Jonathan Parker is a versatile speedster who is working out mostly now at receiver.

"Allowing him to play in different situations rather than just the fly sweep, I think, will not only help that play, but he's also got very good hands," Kennedy said.

Kennedy also said that, with three years now in the scheme under offensive coordinator Greg Davis, that the receivers should have a better understanding of the system and play multiple positions to take advantage of matchups. At the same time, Kennedy said that the three incoming freshmen receivers -- Emmanuel Ogwo, Adrian Falconer and Jerminic Smith -- could earn some immediate playing time.

"We're moving in the right direction," Kennedy said of his group. "But let's be honest. Moving in the right direction and getting there is a long haul."

Heated punting competition: The Hawkeyes currently have a four-man battle raging at punter, with Marshall Koehn, Miguel Recinos, Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd fighting it out. Kidd and Kornbreath took turns punting last year, while Koehn handled placekicking duties.

Iowa finished 13th in the Big Ten and 117th in the FBS in net punting average last year, so the job is understandably wide open this spring.

"There are no two ways to put it," White said. "That was an unacceptable performance. I've got to find a way to have someone execute better in games."