Brown: Fullbacks should improve Iowa's rushing attack

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – The fullback is a dying breed in college football.

Last season, it nearly went extinct at Iowa.

And the crazy thing is, fullbacks are gold in the Hawkeyes' smash mouth approach to the game. But returning starter Adam Cox injured a knee in preseason camp and was lost for the season after surgery. His backup, Macon Plewa, struggled with a rotator cuff injury that made blocking problematic.

"There's no question our running game took a hit because of that," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said.

But Cox and Plewa are healthy now for an Iowa team that plays their annual spring game at 1 p.m. Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium.

"I know we're no secret weapon," Cox said. "But I do think we are a valuable part of the offense."

Cox can't wait to get back out there and pop some pads.

"It's fun to hit someone," he said.

Ferentz told Cox on a Tuesday last August that he was no longer a walk-on. He had earned a scholarship.

"I was at an all-time high," Cox said.

The very next day, 300-pound defensive tackle and NFL prospect Carl Davis rolled up on Cox in a contact drill and shredded his ACL.

"I was at an all-time low," Cox said.

Starting Saturday, Cox feels it's time to provide a return on the investment.

"I still joke that I haven't proved anything since I got that (scholarship)," Cox said.

The senior-to-be gets asked all the time about playing a position that has gathered dust at many college programs. Seventy BCS programs — 56.5 percent of them — don't list a fullback on the roster. Some list just one. Others have a fullback/tight end hybrid.

But fullbacks are alive and well at Iowa and vital to the success of the offense.

"They're erasers," running backs coach Chris White said. "If something happens up front and someone misses an assignment, they can make them right."

Cox and Plewa are roommates and non-nonsense bookends, willing and able to toil in the shadows and celebrate team success.

"Behind the scenes or in front of the scenes, it doesn't matter to me," said Plewa, who will also be a senior. "I want the team to be the best it possibly can. If that means doing some dirty work, and getting in there and moving some guys, that's what I'm going to do."

They risk their health to carve out running room for the backs and protect the quarterback.

"This is a position where you don't want to take an insurance policy out on them," White said. "They're battering rams."

When Cox and Plewa got dinged last season, linebacker John Kenny was moved to fullback to fill the void. So Iowa will enter the season with an embarrassment of riches at that position.

"That's probably the only place on the depth chart right now where we have that kind of experience," Ferentz said.

Cox was still on crutches when he started his rehabilitation, doing upper body weight work under the eyes of strength coach Chris Doyle. Now he's in a position to improve an offense that saw rushing yards per game dip from 179.9 in 2013 to 163.1 last season.

"It's just fun to get your nose in there and open up some holes," Cox said.

Spoken like a true fullback. A true scholarship fullback.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.