Tuesday takeaways: Workhorse Canzeri, injury concerns, triple tight ends

Chad Leistikow
Jordan Canzeri has shouldered 58 carries over the past three weeks. The fifth-year senior is following former Hawkeye Fred Russell as perhaps an undersized featured back.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Don't quote Kirk Ferentz as having any trepidation over having Jordan Canzeri handle 20-plus carries a game.

"Those were never my words," the 17th-year Iowa coach said Tuesday. "I don't get pinned down on that stuff."

It's looking more like Canzeri is not only Iowa's healthiest but best option as the bellcow back for Saturday's clash at No. 19 Wisconsin (11:01 a.m., ESPN).

Canzeri, at 5-foot-9, 192 pounds, has excelled as the primary back each of the past three weeks as season-opening starter LeShun Daniels Jr. was hobbled with a right-ankle injury. Canzeri leads the Big Ten Conference in scoring with eight touchdowns, including four on 22 carries in last week's 62-16 rout of North Texas. He's shown terrific vision in averaging 5.0 yards a carry while also ranking second on the team with 13 receptions.

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Ferentz pointed to two of the top five all-time leading rushers at Iowa – 209-pound Albert Young (3,173 yards from 2004-07) and 190-pound Fred Russell (2,760 yards from 2001-03) – as reasons not to worry about Canzeri's workload.

"Fred Russell, I don't know what he weighed, but boy, he had a lot of carries (514 in three years)," Ferentz said. "There's nothing in terms of physics that says a guy can't do it. In a perfect world, if we've got two good backs, we'd love to rotate them both and keep them fresh.

"But if one guy carries the load, that's fine."

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The injury report

Details were thin on the wounded Hawkeyes, although Ferentz ruled none out for Saturday. Here's the rundown:

Daniels (ankle) and defensive end Drew Ott (dislocated elbow) remain cleared to play but neither is 100 percent. Daniels "looked better today in practice," Ferentz said.

Tight end Jake Duzey (recovery from knee surgery) is "hardly full speed yet" but expect to see him for some snaps in Madison.

Secondary starters Greg Mabin and Miles Taylor (soft-tissue injuries) are "are not full speed," Ferentz said. "We're going to be careful with them, and hopefully we'll have them both at game time."

As for starting left tackle Boone Myers (stinger): "Same category as the other guys."

None of it sounds great, but none of it sounds ominous. Stay tuned.

Going big AND going deep

Iowa showed some three tight end sets against North Texas, and don't be surprised if they're deployed against Saturday at Wisconsin – especially now that Duzey is back. Ferentz said Tuesday, "that'll be on the board every week."

"It puts defenses in a bind," said George Kittle, fresh off his first career touchdown last week. "All the tight ends out there, we can run routes really well, and we can all block really well."

Kittle's 43-yard TD vs. North Texas was a deep sideline throw that emerged from a double tight end set (he and starter Henry Krieger Coble). Presenting multiple tight ends gives versatility to quarterback C.J. Beathard to make either/or play calls at the line of scrimmage.

"They don't really know if we're going to send four guys down the field deep or if we're just going to run a power play at them," Kittle said. "It puts them at a disadvantage. If they try to match us big, then we can throw the rock. And if they go small, then we can just run the ball."

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Productive silence at 'Leo'

Not much has been written about true sophomore Ben Niemann. And that means the 6-foot-3, 225-pound native of Sycamore, Ill., is doing a pretty good job as Iowa's new starting outside ("leo") linebacker.

Despite lacking much experience, Niemann was named to the role held last year by Bo Bower on the Jan. 8 depth chart. He's not relinquished the job since.

"When that position doesn't play well, it tends to show up, and when he does play well, he's like the silent man, which is really good," Ferentz said. "He's done a really nice job, and that was something that we kind of envisioned happening a year ago. That's why we played him on special teams. He didn't play much from scrimmage, but we thought that was kind of his position; he was built for it and had a good feel for it."

Niemann's role is critical in the Hawkeyes' base 4-3 defense, because he must be versatile enough to man up on wide receivers in pass coverage yet also take on lumbering offensive lineman on running plays. He also blitzes with success, having posted 4.5 tackles for loss (second on the team).

"Just seeing (last year) how quick he was off the line, following receivers," middle linebacker Josey Jewell said, "we all knew he was going to be good in the future."

Lomax hasn't forgotten

Jordan Lomax probably knew the question was coming when he was able to attend his first mid-week media availability of the season after a Tuesday class was canceled. The Iowa free safety's mistake that led to a key play in last year's 26-24 loss to Wisconsin was broached.

On the play, Lomax let Melvin Gordon get behind him at a key fourth-quarter juncture, and quarterback Joel Stave hit him for 35 yards on third-and-13. Lomax has been a beast in Iowa's secondary this season with 26 tackles, many of the hard-hitting variety.

"It's a play I definitely lose sleep over. I definitely haven't forgotten about it," Lomax said. "It's also made me a better player. It's helped me not make the same mistake twice. For me, it's just been a big learning experience in making sure it doesn't happen again."

Contributing: Rick Brown.