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Derrick Mitchell Jr.'s running back potential on display

Rick Brown
ribrown@dmreg.com
Iowa’s Sean Draper (7) and Derrick Mitchell Jr. (32) sign autographs prior to the Hawkeyes’ spring game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Mitchell rushed for 53 yards on seven carries.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – The Derrick Mitchell Jr. story started last fall, and continued Saturday during Iowa's spring football game at Kinnick Stadium.

A wide receiver by trade, Mitchell was moved to running back on the scout team last fall to imitate guys like Wisconsin all-American Melvin Gordon.

"The defensive guys said he really looked good running the football," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

When the Hawkeye coaching staff met for the first time after the TaxSlayer Bowl, they went over the entire roster.

"One thing we always talk about is do we have this player in the right position?" Ferentz said.

The decision was made to move Mitchell to running back, where he's spent the spring learning his new craft. On Saturday, the sophomore was wearing No. 32 and gained 53 yards on seven carries.

Mitchell weighed 215 pounds and had good ball skills — a requirement for a wide receiver or a running back. He also played some running back at Vashon High School in St. Louis.

"The question was could he do it full-time," Ferentz said. "Could he do it in an offensive structure? So far, so good. He's really responded well. I'm excited about where this has a chance to take him."

Mitchell won't replace LeShun Daniels Jr. and Jordan Canzeri, the Hawkeyes' top two backs, next fall. Also in the mix is sophomore Akrum Wadley, who is on the same learning curve as Mitchell.

"Akrum is doing some good things as well," Ferentz said. "He still runs a little bit like he's in high school. When it's there, you've got to try and hit it instead of making a big play. Sometimes, 4 yards is a big play, too."

Mitchell brings a fresh take to the position.

"He has a confidence and swagger when he runs," safety Jordan Lomax said. "That's the good thing about being a running back. I like that about him. He's able to run. He's strong and powerful. He doesn't go down after one tackle, barely. He can also have a nice little jump cut."

Saturday only added to the potential Mitchell will carry to spring ball.

"We didn't know what to expect," Ferentz said. "I think he's done a lot of good things. He's improved with each week of practice. He's not there yet, but he's on the right track."