Kirk Ferentz feeling better about running back situation

Chad Leistikow
Iowa junior running back LeShun Daniels Jr., right, runs a drill during Saturday’s open practice at Valley Stadium. Daniels has 51 career carries for 191 yards but is showing he could be a primary option this fall.

WEST DES MOINES, Ia. – Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz addressed many areas of concern in a nine-minute interview following Saturday's open practice at Valley Stadium.

It was only practice No. 9 this spring out of the 15 allowed until fall camp. So naturally, Ferentz's laundry list was plentiful — the offensive line, finding a punter, depth across the board.

But when it came to discussing his stable of running backs, the 17th-year coach's tone turned upbeat.

"That's one thing that's been a little encouraging in nine days," he said.

Hawkeye fans don't need a reminder that their team's running back situation has been dogged with attrition, injuries and inconsistency.

Ferentz experienced five 1,000-yard individual rushing seasons in his first seven years at Iowa; he's had just two in the nine years since (Shonn Greene in 2008, Marcus Coker in 2011).

Perhaps the most notable number overall, though, is 4.1. That was Iowa's yards-per-carry average in 2014, which ranked 10th in the Big Ten Conference.

That needs to improve, and on this lap, Ferentz likes the horses he's got in the stable.

LeShun Daniels Jr., listed as the co-starter alongside Jordan Canzeri on Iowa's spring depth chart, seems poised to seize more of an every-down role.

"That's what we all strive for," he said Saturday.

Iowa had five different rushing leaders in games last year, and none of them were Daniels. The 6-foot, 225-pound junior-to-be had his season shortened by foot surgery.

At Valley, he declared himself 100 percent. With extra conditioning and a heavier dose of fruits and vegetables in his diet, Daniels trimmed 5-to-10 pounds entering the spring.

Saturday, he showed a burst at the line of scrimmage that Iowa didn't have a year ago with Mark Weisman as the primary back, and he also showed patience in letting the zone-blocking scheme create space.

Though Daniels and senior Canzeri (5-9, 192) comprise what Ferentz hopes is a formidable 1-2 punch, sophomores Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell Jr. aren't far behind. Running backs coach Chris White said Wadley (listed at 5-11, 185) has "put on at least 10 pounds this spring" with the help of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle — and is even a possibility in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

Mitchell (6-1, 212) got a lot of reps with the second-team offense Saturday and looked comfortable as he makes the transition from wide receiver.

"We're going to keep pushing those guys forward," Ferentz said. "They've all practiced well.

"(Mitchell) has some things to work on right now. Akrum's done a better job with ball security. It's not where it needs to be. But he's a little bigger and stronger than he was."