Iowa Running Game in 2010
by, 04-17-2010 at 01:45 AM (1531 Views)
In 2010, the Hawks will look to stake their claim as one of the nation’s elite. But in order to do that, they must have a championship-caliber running game. Iowa has a seemingly endless stable of talented running backs right now, a luxury they’ve not had at least since I started really watching 7 years ago. Having 5 backs (Sophomores Jewell Hampton, Brandon Wegher, Adam Robinson, and freshmen Brad Rogers and Marcus Coker) worth giving touches creates quite a log-jam for carries. While this is always considered a good problem to have, Kirk Ferentz and OC Ken O’Keefe must find the right rotation for these talented players. This will hinge on several different factors:
1. Is Jewell Hampton ready to pick up where he left off in 2008?
Hampton had a very promising freshman campaign backing up Doak Walker-winner and All-World back Shonn Greene in 2008, rushing for 463 yards and a then-freshman-record, 7 touchdowns. He showed more than enough power to be effective at his somewhat undersized frame (5’9” 210), great “shake”, good vision, open-field speed, and explosion through the hole. Coming off of ACL surgery, Hampton should be plenty hungry to prove that he can be the back we all hoped to have in 2008. Ken O’Keefe was quoted as saying at a press conference earlier this week: “Guys come off of major injuries, and they are holding back or they are not sure or confident in what they are doing so they might be tentative...Jewell has never been tentative. We threw a swing pass to him the other day, juked a guy and went down to the next guy and juked him. That is not a guy worried about his injury. He is confident he is back and ready to go. That is good...he is going a mile a minute and that means to me that he is confident.”
That’s good news for Hawk fans, and a promising sign that maybe Hampton will become the number one back by the end of the season.
2. Will incoming freshman Marcus Coker redshirt?
Coker has been very favorably compared to former Iowa star Shonn Greene, and with good reason. The 6’0” 230 lb. runner out of Dematha Catholic (MD) High runs a 4.50 40-yard dash, and as his frame would suggest, has a lot of power in his game. He should be a very valuable part of the offense in the future, whether it comes in 2010 or beyond. The question on a lot of people’s minds is whether or not Ferentz decides to redshirt him. Coker could be helpful this season, but it may be more beneficial to the program to save a year of eligibility. We will have to wait and see, but it’s likely that he will be redshirted, and be used if it becomes necessary.
3. What will Brandon Wegher’s role be?
Wegher had a very solid freshman season, rushing for 641 yards and a freshman-record, 8 touchdowns. He seemed to spend much of the year focusing primarily on keeping his hands on the football at the expense of really showcasing his abilities. It’s hard to ask much more out of a freshman running back in the Big Ten, and Wegher succeeded, fumbling just once on the year. However, at the end of the year, Wegher started to show off some of his breakaway speed, and it has many Hawk fans excited for his future. He also proved to be one of the best goal line backs in the Big Ten, using his athleticism to leap over the pile in a move coined as “The Wegher Bomb”. He also showed terrific hands at times, making a tremendous one-handed grab against Iowa State. On the year he made just 13 catches for 122 yards, but those numbers should increase as he is trusted with more 3rd down, passing situation opportunities. This is where the question of Wegher’s role comes up. Does Ferentz move Wegher to the slot in 2010, and play him more as a poor man’s Percy Harvin? Or does he only move him there on occasion? Or does Wegher move around at all? The benefit of moving him would be that the Hawks would then be able to get more than one of their top 3 backs on the field at the same time. Adam Robinson has shown that he can be very valuable as a check-down option in 3rd and long situations (see his 3 catches for 46 yards against Penn State last year), and can also break a long run when the Hawks are behind the chains (43-yard scamper on a 2nd and 23 draw play). And Jewell Hampton is far too talented to keep off of the field as well. I don’t really see Iowa getting too flashy, so I wouldn’t expect Wegher to make a position change. I think we will see him in the slot more frequently, however. But he will still get plenty of time in the backfield.
4. The Forgotten Man: Adam Robinson
Seemingly lost in the shuffle in fan discussions, sophomore Adam Robinson should again play a critical role in the Hawks’ quest for a Rose Bowl berth. As a redshirt freshman, Robinson rushed for 834 yards and 5 touchdowns. Had he not suffered a high-ankle sprain against Michigan State, Robinson very likely would have been a 1,000-yard rusher. He had a gutsy performance against Ohio State in Columbus, rushing for 74 yards after coming back just 3 weeks after his injury. But from what I’ve read on the HawkeyeNation message boards, Robinson is considered by many to be a classic overachiever, who will now take a backseat to the supposedly more talented Hampton and Wegher. To call Robinson a stop-gap fails to truly give him the credit he deserves for Iowa’s success in 2009. Since when was an overachiever something to cast aside when it comes to Iowa Football? While I agree that Robinson is less physically gifted as Hampton and Wegher, he has several other traits that cannot be overlooked. He has outstanding vision, especially for a sophomore, and showed a better burst through the hole than Wegher did, even if Robinson doesn’t have the extra gear in the open field that Wegher possesses. He is also the most slippery back that Iowa has had since Fred Russell. Rarely did the first man bring A-Rob down, and it wasn’t because he was overpowering. He was one of the toughest backs to bring down that I saw all of last year (granted I did not see EVERY back on a regular basis, but I still saw a good number of other backs over the course of the season). I personally feel that he will start out the year as the number one guy, though he could lose that spot to Hampton. Regardless, as one of the top two backs, Robinson will see plenty of carries, my guess being around 10-15 per game. I must implore that Hawk fans don’t sleep on Robinson.
These are the four questions/factors that will determine the ultimate rotation for Iowa’s backfield in 2010, in my opinion. Iowa averaged 28 rushes per game in 2009 (not including sacks and Daniel Murray’s fake field goal against Ohio State), and I expect that that number will inflate just a little bit, as the backfield will have much more experience. I see the carries splitting up as such: Hampton and Robinson both getting 10-15 carries per game (give or take), and Wegher getting 7-10 carries a game. Wegher should make up for the lower number of carries with the touches he gets in the passing game. This setup should allow all 3 backs to excel, and give Iowa a more balanced and dynamic offense in 2010.
Let’s hope the injury bug steers clear!