The ideal scenario for Iowa’s running backs this season is as follows:
- LeShun Daniels Jr. stays healthy throughout the fall and finally fulfills his promise.
- Akrum Wadley keeps his weight at or above the magical 190-pound threshold and is able to punish defenders as often as he eludes them.
- Derrick Mitchell Jr. gets out of the hot tub and back into the mix as a third option.
- Freshmen Toks Akinribade and Toren Young get a year of seasoning but aren’t needed on the field.
That was the message that Hawkeye running backs coach Chris White delivered Wednesday on KxNO radio’s “Hawk Central” show. He said he is hoping to avoid the situation of last year, when Iowa juggled playing time among four running backs, and instead rely on only three this year.
Daniels, a senior who rushed for 646 yards a year ago, would appear to be the lead back.
“I’d like to see him play 12 games and not be injured and see how good he really is,” White said.
Wadley is a junior with big-play potential and the ability to test defenses as a receiver as well. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his nine games last year, running for 496 yards and seven touchdowns while catching another six passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. (Daniels had just one reception.)
But he’s been struggling to maintain his weight since arriving as a 167-pound freshman. Last year, Wadley played at 184 pounds. He was at 190 this spring, and said he’d like to add another five by the time the season begins.
“He’s starting to grow up and he’s starting to figure out that he’s pretty good and our team really needs him,” White said.
“It’s still a work in progress. Some days are better than the others, but it’s more on the better side than the worse side. It’s a lifestyle for him right now and he’s starting to buy in. And once he completely buys in I think he’s going to realize that ‘I don’t know why I fought it so long and you guys were right and it’s made me a better player.’ ”
Then there’s Mitchell, another junior who was the forgotten man this spring after sitting out following an unspecified surgery. Mitchell had 303 yards on his 40 touches last year, appearing in 12 games.
“The old saying is you can’t make the club in the tub,” White said. “When kids are injured you forget about him. But he’s been cleared, he’s been lifting, he looks good, he’s really determined. So don’t forget about Derrick Mitchell, he’s going to be a good player.”
That leaves sophomore Marcel Joly (two carries for 13 yards last season), Akinribade and Young to round out the tailback battle after Eric Graham left the program last week. The freshmen have been on campus for only a week, so White said he hasn’t had a chance yet to evaluate them as runners. But, like head coach Kirk Ferentz declared a week ago, White said the newcomers may be called upon to help immediately, particularly if there’s an injury to any of the top three options.
“They’re both physically mature enough. That’s always an issue, if they can handle the pounding. They’re both over 200 pounds and strong,” White said. “They’ll get plenty of reps this preseason.”
As for special teams, White’s other domain, he said:
- The battle to replace Marshall Koehn at place-kicker will likely last throughout summer camp. Sophomores Miguel Recinos and Mick Ellis are the two holdovers who spent the spring trying to claim the spot. They will be joined by walk-ons Caleb Shudak (son of former Iowa State kicker Jeff Shudak) and Keith Duncan.
“We saw some things in Caleb and I think he’ll have a chance,” White said of Shudak, who attended Iowa’s specialists camp last year. “It was a nip-and-tuck battle between Miguel and Nick throughout the spring. And really you couldn’t differentiate one from the other right now.”
- The punting situation is similarly unsettled after Dillon Kidd handled those duties a year ago. Colten Rastetter of Guttenberg redshirted last fall and is in competition with incoming freshman Jackson Terry and a wild card in Ron Coluzzi, a graduate transfer from Central Michigan.
“We’re looking forward to really working with him,” White said of Coluzzi. “It’s one of those deals where a kid had a dream of playing at the next level of big-time college football. He really sought us out and he knew that we had a need. He’s a really mature kid and he’s taking this really seriously so I’m looking forward to seeing where he’s at.”
- Regarding kickoffs, White said that will likely come down to Coluzzi or Recinos. Coluzzi also handled kickoffs at Central Michigan, with 21 of his 64 last year resulting in touchbacks.
- The return and coverage units will ideally be spots where White can employ a bevy of incoming freshmen linebackers. He cited Jack Hockaday as a rookie linebacker last year who was able to make an impact on special teams, which negates the need to use starters like Josey Jewell in those roles.
“I’m sure some of those guys are going to emerge early and quite frankly we’re going to need them to,” White said.