Assume the Position 2013: Running Back

Reese Strickland-US PRESSWIRE

This is not a drill.

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.

Previously on Assume the Position 2013:

1. Tight End
2. Linebacker

Today: Running back

LOL I know, right? The most cursed position group in FBS football is third on the list of most certain Iowa position groups? Shouldn't the possibility of summer school grade issues or torn ACLs or falling anvils make us hesitate just a month or two, while we wait for the inevitable misfortune to decimate the depth chart?

Nope, not doing it anymore. See that graveyard? We're whistling right past it.

Thunder

Mark Weisman (#45, Junior (RS), 6'0", 236 lbs., Stevenson HS (Buffalo Grove, IL)/Air Force)

There was a point whre Mark Weisman was going to save 2012.

But let's back things up, because we've never really tackled Weisman in one of these. Weisman was a two-star fullback prospect out of Chicago's northern suburbs in 2010. There was naturally limited interest in a fullback in 2010, because it was 2010, and Weisman didn't want to drag the process out. So with some interest but no offers from such fullback-happy programs as Iowa, Michigan State, Western Michigan, and Miami (OH), Weisman pulled the trigger on his one scholarship offer in the summer before his senior season. Air Force, here we come.

Unfortunately, the academy life wasn't for Weisman. He never played a snap for Air Force and left early. Ferentz, as any coach would, was happy to take a walk-on fullback who he had considered for a scholarship offer just months earlier, and Weisman made his debut in spring 2012. It was not long before his name was being dropped by assistants, and we started contemplating the possibility that Weisman could be a return to the Brett Morse multi-purpose fullback of Iowa's past. I don't think anyone -- not us, not you, not the coaches, probably not even Weisman -- thought it would be much more than that.

Weisman started factoring in the offense early. In the opener, he got two carries, a modest total for a halfback but shocking for an Iowa fullback. He dropped a would-be game-winning touchdown against Iowa State the next week, and some (read: me) thought it might be the end of the line.

The next week against UNI, with Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon still entrenched at the top of the depth chart, AIRBHG struck. Bullock left the game with a concussion. Just minutes later, Garmon was out with an elbow injury. We expected Mike Malloy or Andre Dawson or a hobbled Jordan Canzeri. We got Weisman, who unleashed hell. He ran for 113 yards and three scores in little more than a half as Iowa coasted past UNI. The next week, Weisman ran for 217 yards on 27 carries -- an absurd 8.0 yards per carry -- and three scores. He annihilated Minnesota the next week, going for 177 yards on 21 carries -- that's an even more absurd 8.4 yards per carry -- in basically a half of work. He had his fourth consecutive 100-yard game in a win at Michigan State the following week, but was injured late. The next week, with Weisman barely able to walk, the offensive line imploded against Penn State, and we never saw Weisman on the field with Iowa's top line quintet again. Not coincidentally, Iowa did not win again in 2012. Weisman finished the season with a team-leading 815 rushing yards, but just 193 yards outside those four games. He was solid against Nebraska, but never again reached the level he had early in the season.

The staff hints at a two-pronged attack at halfback. Morehouse is convinced that Weisman will inevitably become the workhorse, and I'm thinking he's right. Ferentz gravitates to a workhorse tailback, and Weisman has shown the ability to be that guy when healthy. But a Weisman-heavy offense is probably not a Greg Davis-heavy offense; he's not going to be a threat in the flat, he's not going to make guys miss in space, and he's a questionable pass-catcher at best. With that said, Iowa's offense was at its best in 2012 when it used Weisman's running to set up the play action pass; in other words, Iowa's offense was great when it was Iowa's offense. If you buy into the premise that Davis needs a chance to run Davis' offense, Weisman is not a good sign. But if Iowa goes the other way -- if it takes Davis' route reads, moves them downfield, and uses them in play action -- Weisman could work. The question is no longer whether Weisman can play halfback. The question is whether the entire offense can work when Weisman is in control, and we should have an answer soon.

Lightning

Jordan Canzeri (#33, Sophomore (RS), 5'9, 192 lbs., Troy (NY) HS)

This is your Greg Davis back: 2011 last-second commit, 2012 bowl game starter, AIRBHG victim, and coaching staff fetish object Jordan Canzeri. The diminutive back didn't play last season after tearing his ACL in spring practice, though he was in uniform for most of the season, and had an excellent spring by all accounts.

Canzeri really is the complete opposite of Weisman. Where Weisman is almost a zero-cut runner -- see the hole, hit the hole, fall forward -- Canzeri was a bit of a backfield dancer in his last game action. Where Weisman is not elusive in the slightest, Canzeri might be the most dangerous player on Iowa's current squad in the open field.

Iowa's offensive coaches have mused about a Weisman-Damon Bullock backfield ever since Weisman broke through last season, but never got the two of them healthy at the same time for long enough for it to happen. A Weisman-Canzeri backfield could be intriguing, though, allowing for both the between-the-tackles battering of Weisman and the motion/screen game that Canzeri could provide (with Weisman blocking for added effect). Weisman's zone running style essentially demands six on the line, and a formation with two running backs and a tight end is just about the least effective Greg Davis formation imaginable. However, that formation with Canzeri and Fiedorowicz, which can motion into a rather effective four-wide, could work.

Plan B

Damon Bullock (#5, Junior, 6'0, 200, Mansfield (TX) HS)

And if Canzeri in motion has the capacity to make Iowa's offense spread the field, Bullock in the slot could change everything. The Iowa halfback, who became our favorite player this offseason with his Vine account, admitted this spring that he's moving away from the backfield and toward wide receiver. Bullock's move makes sense, and his versatility could be one of Iowa's most effective weapons.

Bullock moved from wide receiver to running back last year, after AIRBHG cleared the depth chart and left Iowa scrambling for someone who could run the ball and catch an occasional pass. His 150-yard debut against Northern Illinois, including a game-winning 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, was promising. But Bullock was largely ineffective against Iowa State the next week, missed four weeks after an injury in the UNI game, suffered a second injury after Purdue (a game where he averaged just 1.9 yards per carry against one of the conference's most pedestrian defenses), and ended the season with just 513 yards on 3.8 yards per carry.

Damon Bullock is probably not a week-in, week-out feature back, but he's versatile enough to find a home in this offense and a serviceable backup if (we should probably just say when) Weisman and Canzeri can't go. That's not a bad job to have.

While You Wait for the Others

Michael Malloy (#26, Freshman (RS), 6'0, 215 lbs., Heelan HS (Sioux City))

Malloy, a running back out of Sioux City who had a scholarship offer, lost it after a run-in with the law, and walked on anyway, had a good spring. He was always supposed to be the "Break in Case of Emergency" back last season, but the various injuries to Weisman and Bullock were staggered enough to allow Malloy a redshirt. He could have a role to play in 2013, especially if there are injuries in a convoluted and congested depth chart.

Barkley Hill (#3, Freshman (RS), 6'0, 215 lbs., Cedar Falls (IA) HS)

There was a week in August where all the camp buzz was around Hill, a true freshman who Iowa had landed late in the game. He was running better than the more highly-regarded Greg Garmon and was increasingly likely to win the starting spot against Northern Illinois. And all of that might have happened, too, if he hadn't torn his ACL on the last series of an open scrimmage. So, instead, Hill redshirted, waited for Garmon to get AIRBHG'd himself, picked up a one-game suspension for a DUI, and finds himself on the outside looking in as his second year begins. He might be in the mix with or without injury to someone above him; much will depend on how that knee comes back.

LeShun Daniels (#29, Freshman, 6'0, 220 lbs., Harding HS (Warren, OH))

For a while, it looked like Iowa would not land a halfback in the 2013 recruiting class until Daniels -- a big, physical, bowling ball of a halfback -- decommitted from Boston College following the firing of Frank Spaziani. The Hawkeyes extended a scholarship offer over Thanksgiving weekend, and Daniels committed soon afterwards. I'm guessing that, with the depth chart so congested, the staff would like to redshirt Daniels. But AIRBHG is a thing, people, and that means depth chart congestion is only temporary.

Akrum Wadley (#31, Freshman, 5'11, 170 lbs., Weequahic HS (Newark, NJ))

Wadley was insanely productive -- 1500 yards rushing and 29 scores -- for the New Jersey state runner-up last year, and yet went completely ignored by recruitniks. He had committed to Temple when Iowa offered on Signing Day Eve and got his signature. We had speculated that Wadley could be a safety or wideout or punt return specialists (he returned four punts for touchdowns last season) and one of those could still be his eventual resting place. But, for now, Iowa has him listed at running back. If you see him this season, he's returning kicks or the ninth running back in after the true AIRBHGALYPTO has finally occurred.

Macon Plewa (#42, Sophomore (RS), 6'2, 235 lbs., Franklin (WI) HS)

Iowa killed off the fullback spot on the depth chart this spring, but that hardly means there won't be a fullback in the offense. Plewa, a walk-on who played sparingly against Minnesota and Michigan State last season, is probably that guy.

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