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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Scott A. Miller/US Presswire|
|Iowa may not have a difficult time replacing Shonn Greene's production.|
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When Bryan Bulaga walked into Iowa's video room Friday afternoon, a team official jokingly introduced the 6-6, 312-pound offensive tackle as a running back.
"I'm the next Shonn Greene," Bulaga said with a smile.
Not to worry, Hawkeyes fans. Bulaga won't be lining up in the backfield this fall. Instead, the All-Big Ten junior will be clearing running lanes for a new featured runner.
Who that man is remains to be seen.
Sophomore Jewel Hampton, who generated buzz as Greene's backup last season, is competing alongside redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson and junior Paki O'Meara for the top job. They somehow must find a way to replace 307 carries, a team-record 1,850 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns -- numbers that earned Greene the Doak Walker Award last fall.
"You've have to be foolish to expect anybody to do what Shonn did," head coach Kirk Ferentz said, "because nobody else did it in the country. ... I don't see one guy having as many carries as Shonn had and certainly not as many yards."
Hampton rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns on 91 carries (5.1 ypc) as a true freshman in 2008. He missed the first part of spring practice with a mild hamstring strain but has returned to practice and been cleared for contact drills.
At 5-9 and 210 pounds, Hampton doesn't quite resemble the imposing Greene (5-11, 235), but he could handle a featured role.
"If you've got a guy like Greene, it's pretty easy," Ferentz said. "Jewel may end up emerging that way, but we're not ready to ordain him as the savior at the tailback position. I think he's got a real good future. He's got a lot of upside. I just don't want to see any one guy have that kind of pressure following what Shonn did.
"We're comfortable playing two or three guys. We'll be fine."
Bulaga said all three returning backs learned from Greene, whose no-frills, downhill running style fit perfectly with Iowa's offense. There aren't many stylistic differences between Greene and Hampton, O'Meara and Brinson, who have shown patience without too much backfield dancing.
In other words, they're keeping Bulaga and his linemates happy.
"Jewel had a good amount of touches last year," Bulaga said. "He's gone against Big Ten teams, he's taken hits against Big Ten teams going in, so he knows what to expect going in. And early in the [2008 season], Paki got some touches as well. They're going to handle it alright.
"It's just that Jewel and Paki are going to be the guys. They're not going to have Shonn to rely on to take the burden of the carries."
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi often gets asked how Iowa's offense will move forward without Greene. He refers back to last spring practice, when the same questions emerged about the running back spot.
"It's still early," Stanzi said. "People forget this is still spring ball and we've got a whole other offseason to go through where guys can build, get better and get ready for camp."
Greene is still missed around Hawkeye football headquarters, and not just for his production.
"To be as humble as he was, he was the ultimate team player," Stanzi said. "Everybody loved the guy. He had a great head on his shoulders, and we wish him nothing but the best."
Added tight end Tony Moeaki: "We definitely miss him, because he was a stud, but at the same time we're rooting for him in the NFL draft."
Ferentz goes out of his way to temper expectations for Greene's successor, but Iowa will continue to be a run-first offense built around one of the Big Ten's top lines. Not dwelling on last year's success has been a theme this spring, nowhere more so than at running back.
"Shonn bailed us out of a couple situations, more than a couple," Bulaga said. "Yeah, we miss him, I miss him, he's a great guy. But Jewel's doing a pretty good job, and Paki and Jeff are getting signficant reps. So I miss him, but that's another area where we need to move on."