TEMPE AZ - DECEMBER 28: Runningback Marcus Coker #34 of the Iowa Hawkeyes is tackled by Will Ebner #32 of the Missouri Tigers during the Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28 2010 in Tempe Arizona. The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Assume the Position is our offseason guide to the Iowa Hawkeyes football depth chart. The math is difficult, so take it from us: As time moves on, we'll know more. That's why we rank the positions from most certain to least certain.
Today: Running Back
There were seven players profiled in last year's Assume the Position: Running Back. Five of those seven are no longer with the program, and the guy at the top of this year's list -- the guy who has this position so high on the list -- wasn't one of those two.
You win again, AIRBHG.
A New Hope
Marcus Coker (#34, Sophomore, 6'1", 230, DeMatha Catholic HS (Beltsville, MD))
This will be the fifth season that BHGP has chronicled Iowa football. In that time, Iowa has started the season with five different halfbacks on the top line. The next one up is Marcus Coker, the nineteen year old wrecking ball who broke out in last year's Insight Bowl win over Missouri. Coker was something of a garage sale find for Iowa: He put up nearly 1200 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns as a high school junior at DC-area powerhouse DeMatha Catholic when Iowa began pursuing him. He committed to Iowa (with other offers from Minnesota and Wake Forest) in late August, after he and his mom had driven in for an unofficial visit, based in no small part on Iowa's use of Shonn Greene; Coker was seen as a fullback to his other suitors, but was the ideal size for an Iowa halfback. His senior season (1600 yards and 20 scores) turned him from a lightly-recruited potential fullback to a four-star recruit with interest from most of the ACC and Big East. Iowa kept pressing, though, and Coker's commitment remained firm.
He wasn't even supposed to play last year. With three young backs in front of him and Paki O'Meara as the last-ditch backup option, the depth chart was full. Complicating matters was the collar bone Coker broke during August camp, the kiss of death for virtually any incoming freshman. Yet, while he didn't play in six of the first seven games of the season, Coker didn't redshirt. In fact, he went for 129 in injury duty against Indiana, 70 while filling in for the academically indigestible Adam Robinson on just nine carries against Ohio State, and 90 on Minnesota. The season was capped with an MVP performance against Missouri in the Arizona desert: 33 carries, 219 yards, 2 touchdowns. Shonn Greene never carried the rock 33 times in a game, and never had 219 yards in a game, and he won the Doak Walker. That's a man's stat line, from a true freshman who didn't participate in August camp.
Obviously, that sets the bar awfully high for his follow-up, and we can't expect 33/219 every week. But if Coker shows he can be a workhorse for an Iowa offense that loses Captain America under center and Mr. Third Down at the split end, he will have ample opportunity to put up massive numbers. Iowa wants one back, and they want that one back to punish the opposition. Ready or not, Mr. Coker (and we're pretty sure you're ready), it's your turn to dance with the AIRBHG.
The Brinson Interruption
De'Andre Johnson (#30, Freshman (RS), 5'8", 210, Monsignor Pace HS (Miami, FL))
One is an occurrence. Two is a coincidence. Three is a trend.
So it goes for De'Andre Johnson, who has now gone two seasons without taking a meaningful snap of football. As a high school senior, he missed the season after tearing his ACL. As a college freshman, he redshirted while Coker took the post-Hampton, post-Robinson reps. This spring, Ferentz admitted Johnson wasn't ready yet when he got to Iowa City last August, only 12 months removed from a torn ACL and adjusting to the college game. The question now becomes whether Johnson, who looked like "a totally different player" this spring according to Ferentz, has enough to beat out Jason White and the incoming freshmen for the spot behind Coker. At the end of spring, the verdict was still out; White held the depth chart spot, but tenuously, and Johnson got plenty of looks.
Which brings us to today's tangent: Why does this keep happening to Florida-based halfbacks at Iowa? AIRBHG is usually creative in his choice of how to dispatch of a halfback, but the Florida guys keep getting The Injury That Never Fully Recovers. Jeff Brinson ended up leaving just to avoid having another tendon in his leg snap like a guitar string. His once-promising career was finished by it. The same went for Freddy Russell, who was on medical redshirt his freshman year. I feel like AIRBHG is in a rut, and calling him out for this means he will either fade away for good or come at De'Andre Johnson like it's Saw IX: The Re-Sawening.
The Man of Mystery
Jason White (#3, Junior (RS), 5'10", 205, Davenport North HS (Davenport, IA))
How much can you know about a player who was completely unrecruited, who has flipped between offense and defense twice in three seasons, who has exactly one carry in his career? Jason White shouldn't be this high on the list, and yet he exits spring practice on the two-deep. White walked on at Iowa from Davenport North, where he was a first-team all-conference halfback. He spent a year at safety -- a spot where walk-ons flourish -- and has been a special teams contributor for two seasons. Last spring, with every running back injured, White moved back to halfback, and with last year's depth chart carnage has emerged as a viable option. It still appears unlikely that Iowa will rely on a walk-on converted safety, and yet Paki O'Meara and Adam Robinson happened.
Brad Rogers (#38, Sophomore (RS), 5'10", 215, Central Catholic HS (Toledo, OH))
In normal circumstances, you wouldn't have a fullback who is smaller than your starting halfback. In normal circumstances, you'd flip Rogers and Coker. These aren't normal circumstances, though, for either Iowa or Brad Rogers. Recruited as a halfback, Rogers committed early to Iowa with no other offers and only minor interest from minor programs. He redshirted as Robinson and Wegher emerged, then got some mopup time at halfback while they flamed out. With Coker's emergence and Rogers' ability as a blocker, all signs point to The Bus taking the graduating Brad Morse's spot at fullback, giving Iowa more versatility and running experience at halfback than it's had in some time.
The question with Rogers is his heart, quite literally. He was held out of Insight Bowl practices and spring camp with what has been described by Ferentz as "some heart issues." He underwent diagnostic tests in December, though we haven't been privy to the results. We're not the kind to demand someone disclose medical information; so long as he's fine, we don't care if he plays another down. If he's cleared to play, though, he should see significant playing time. Whether that translates into carries or catches is up to Ken O'Keefe, who has been more and more reluctant to incorporate his fullbacks into the offense over the last decade.
While You Wait for the Others
Rodney Coe (Number unknown, Freshman, 6'3", 240, Edwardsville (IL) HS)
Without reviving the Fiedorowicz and Derby debates, Rodney Coe is another guy who every other program sees as anything but a halfback: Coe received four stars from Rivals and Scout, but as an athlete and outside linebacker, respectively. He received offers from USC, Florida, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, and virtually the entire upper midwest, but few saw him as a halfback. Iowa told him he'd be given every opportunity to win the halfback spot, and Iowa got his signature. A halfback of Coe's height and size isn't unprecedented; Nick Bell played two years for Hayden Fry at 6'2", 255, and Eddie George won a Heisman Trophy at 6'3", 235. If Coe's got the speed (and all indications are he does), there's no reason he can't play halfback.
Mika'il McCall (Number unknown, Freshman, 5'11", 210, Thornridge HS (Dalton, IL))
A halfback-sized halfback! McCall had committed to Michigan State in July. That is, if you asked Michigan State; McCall was never quite clear of what he agreed to do, and when he took a visit to Iowa in January, MSU cut him loose. Iowa was more than happy to scoop him up, especially given that two potential starting halfbacks had just left the team. He's a unanimous three-star recruit and was productive in high school, and Iowa will be expecting him to compete for a depth chart spot from day one.
Jonathan Gimm (#92, Junior, 6'3", 240, Westfield HS (Houston, TX))
If Iowa wants versatility at fullback, it will go with Rogers. If it wants pure, brute blocking force, it could well go with Gimm, a player recruited solely on his blocking ability; the official highlight video published online by the University of Iowa on Gimm's signing was three minutes of him knocking defensive ends and linebackers fifteen yards into the backfield. The thought was he would either add 50 pounds and play offensive line or add 25 and play second-string tight end or H-back. As it stands, Gimm is about as big as he was when he left high school, and fullback might be his best option for seeing the field at all. If Brett Morse is the prototype, Gimm is his doppelganger. It remains to be seen if his performance can make him a carbon copy.