Iowa RBs see strength in numbers (really)

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
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Maybe Jordan Canzeri thought AIRBHG was asleep. Iowa's spring game, after all, is just two days away.

Or maybe Canzeri is bold enough to defy Iowa's dastardly deity.

Canzeri, who can include himself among the countless victims of AIRBHG (Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God), thinks the fortunes of Iowa's running back group are about to change in 2013.

"The experience level is really high, so that's great," Canzeri told ESPN.com this week. "The previous years, we had young backs fill up the position. Now we all know what we're getting into. We're all ready for it.

[+] EnlargeIowa's Jordan Canzeri
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa running back Jordan Canzeri suffered a torn ACL last spring and missed the season, but he's back competing for the Hawkeyes.
"So no bad luck next year."

Iowa fans hope those aren't infamous words, and they've witnessed first-hand the damage AIRBHG does to the Hawkeye running back room. The attrition at the position has been unlike anything we've seen in the Big Ten in recent memory, but what few point out is the fact Iowa continues to produce quality ball-carriers.

The Hawkeyes have three of them this spring in Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Canzeri. All three have started games, and all three are receiving a good amount of reps in practice.

If AIRBHG just stays away, Iowa's running backs could be the strength of an offense that needs a boost after finishing 114th nationally in 2012.

"I definitely think so," Canzeri said. "The starting position, that's something me, Mark and Damon are looking to get, but whoever doesn't get that position, the rotation itself will be strong. Mark, he's running so much better, and Damon and I both became better. For us three backs, we're all different in many ways.

"For us to be able to rotate, if that happens, it'll be trouble for the defenses to go against."

Canzeri entered last spring as the potential starter but suffered a torn ACL. Bullock ended up starting the season opener and rushing for 150 yards in a win against eventual Orange Bowl participant Northern Illinois.

Yet he, too, fell victim to AIRBHG, suffering a concussion against Northern Iowa. That cleared the way for Weisman, a little-known fullback who had transferred from Air Force. Weisman plowed his way to a brilliant four-game stretch -- 623 rush yards, eight touchdowns -- before being sidelined with an ankle injury.

Weisman is back to full strength this spring and has been working with new running backs coach Chris White to refine his game.

"I'm trying to get two hands off the ball," he said. "I used to carry the ball with two hands, but you want to be able to get through traffic, so you get that extra hand off for balance and you try to get those extra defenders off of you. And then just making one cut instead of trying to run over everyone.

"It's second nature to do that, but you remind yourself every time you get the ball to switch it real quick and try to make those moves."

White said earlier this spring that the 225-pound Weisman is even making some jump cuts in practice.

"I want Mark to break arm tackles," White said. "I want Mark to really stick his foot in the ground and run through a guy or run around a guy or stiffarm a guy or break a tackle. That's the thing that I'm challenging Mark to be -- a complete back."

Weisman is willing to play running back or fullback, and Iowa is practicing more with multiple backs on the field, as both Bullock and Canzeri have played some at slot receiver.

"We're committed to running the football," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "It's been nice to have two backs the whole spring. Mark and Damon have both made every practice. That gives you an opportunity to wear down the defense. It also gives you an opportunity, because of their abilities, to put the two of them in the game."

It's a luxury Iowa hasn't had, and one the Hawkeyes likely will need as they work in a new starting quarterback -- Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol or C.J. Beathard -- who will take his first snap in an FBS game this fall.

"Last season, none of us want to go through anything like that again," Canzeri said. "It's made us stronger as a group. We're a lot more focused and we work a lot harder."

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