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Assume the Position 2010: Running Back

You know the drill: Every Thursday whenever, BHGP breaks down the depth chart, position by position, from most certain to least certain.

Defensive Tackle
Defensive End
Tight End
Wide Receiver
Offensive Line

Tonight: Running Back

And so we've come to the end of Assume the Position 2010 (don't ask where special teams went...), with a position that was near the back of the line in May and has only gotten murkier since.  It's another season with the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God.  It's bound to get biblical.

The Prodigal Son

Jewel Hampton (#27, Sophomore, 5'9", 210, Warren Central HS (Indianapolis))

Jewel's had an eventful first two years on campus.  A largely unheralded prospect out of Indianapolis (2* Rivals, 2* Scout, 67/100 ESPN) and a modest list of suitors (Purdue, Indiana, and most of the MAC), he quickly passed classmate Jeff Brinson in the race to back up Shonn Greene.  He played immediately, and produced almost as quickly: Hampton racked up 463 yards rushing and seven touchdowns -- including 114 yards and 3 touchdowns in his only extended action of the season, against Indiana -- and added another 537 in kick return yards, hitting the 1000-yard mark without a yard to spare.  Because it's a respect thing.

In July 2009, with Shonn Greene long since gone to New York and no experienced competition to speak of for the halfback spot, Hampton was the clear frontrunner to inherit Greene's job.  And then AIRBHAG reared his omnipotent head and tore Hampton's ACL, sending us into hysterics and leaving Hampton in street clothes to enjoy the redshirt season he never got.  And then there was the whole barfight thing this summer, a minor legal offense to be sure (since the charges actually had nothing to do with the fight, but for being in a bar under the age of 21) but enough to keep him on the sidelines for the season opener, and we're anxious.

Adam Robinson is a nice back, and Paki O'Meara is exactly the kind of special teams star you want as a third or fourth option, but the apparent departure of Brandon Wegher leaves a vacuum atop the depth chart that Hampton is more than capable of filling.  Whether he's healthy enough (a serious concern 12 months after an ACL injury) and focused enough (not really a concern; it's a drinking ticket) to capitalize will be the story of week 2.  We say yes; Jewel is again the frontrunner.

Old Reliable, Only Not That Old

Adam Robinson (#32, Sophomore, 5'9", 205, Lincoln HS (Des Moines))

So the question becomes, what do you do with Adam Robinson?  What do you do when a halfback who ran up an Iowa freshman record 834 yards while splitting carries, who was your workhorse when you needed him, who is the only potential starter who hasn't added to the offseason drama, isn't your best option?

In so many ways, Robinson wasn't even supposed to play halfback last year.  If Hampton was unheralded, ARob was practically unseen.  He received interest from Iowa State, Kansas, Louisville, and Northern Iowa, but had no offers as signing day approached.  Iowa sent a grayshirt offer his way, reportedly due as much to his relationship with high school teammate (and prized recruit) Jordan Bernstine as it was to his ability on the field, then had that offer become a full scholarship when a scholarship opened.  He spent his first season ostensibly at halfback, but moved to safety during spring practice and appeared buried behind bigger names.  And then, suddenly, the dominoes toppled.  Hampton went down injured.  Brinson went out with nagging problems (again).  Wegher wasn't yet ready.  Paki fumbled.  And so it was Robinson, who had switched back to offense only weeks before, who held the Iowa running game -- and essentially the Iowa offense -- in his hands.

Robinson was a revelation of sorts.  He was consistent, rarely fumbling and consistently churning out 4 yards a carry.  Against Arizona, he turned a conciliatory 3rd-and-24 draw play into a first down, effectively turning a game that had been on a razor's edge.  Against Penn State, he entered the game with a lead and bled the clock dry, capping a late drive with the game-cementing touchdown.  He did the same against Wisconsin, and was the only consistent source of offense at Michigan State.  He missed two regular season games with injuries, and those two games just happened to be those in which the running game never got started (Indiana and Northwestern).  He was a rock, a workhorse, and a total bore.  His longest run was the aforementioned 43-yard draw.  His touchdown total was a pedestrian five.  For all his strengths, he doesn't have the ability to bust the big one, and without that ability, he doesn't scare defenses.  Iowa needs a breakaway threat in the backfield, and that's likely Hampton.  Look for Robinson to get plenty of carries, especially early, but it's unlikely that he'll rise above a backup/third down role absent the same dominoes falling in front of him.

The Battering Ram

Brett Morse (#36, Senior, 6'3", 235, Hinsdale Central HS (Willowbrook, IL))

Iowa fullbacks commonly build a small but ravenous cult following, built on equal parts style of play and name.  Edgar Cervantes.  Jeremy Allen.  Tom Busch.  And yet, due in no way to anything he's done in his two years as a starter, Brett Morse is barely memorable.  

It's a change in philosophy.  An Iowa fullback, while still utilized mostly in lead blocking and blitz protection, would occasionally catch a swing pass or get a carry.  But Ken O'Keefe has moved away from the position as a yard-generator, first when transitioning from Cervantes to Busch, and then again from Busch to Brett Morse.  Despite being a co-starter for most of 2008, Morse didn't even get a carry until 2009, and even then only had five carries for 35 yards.  Morse has the most thankless role in the recent history of a largely thankless position, and he's filled it for three years, and he's done it without any open complaint.  The man deserves his cult.

While You Wait for the Others

Brandon Wegher (#3, Sophomore, 5'11", 206, Bishop Heelan (Sioux City, IA))

Which brings us to the side stage attraction: Where is Brandon Wegher?  Once widely considered a threat to start, fresh off a stellar performance in the Orange Bowl, and unquestionably the most dangerous halfback on the roster, Wegher went AWOL three days after fall camp opened and hasn't been back since.  There's been virtually no news on why he's gone, but Ferentz has made it abundantly clear that (1) he's gone with the staff's permission, at least for now, and (2) the offense is moving forward under the premise that he won't be here this year.  Despite being a highly-decorated recruit (universal 4*, with the accompanying set of offers), Wegher isn't exactly an imposing physical specimen; an August away from the program is difficult to overcome, and a full season away that isn't dedicated to the typical training regimen could be fatal.  He would be nice to have, but should Hampton and Robinson stay healthy, he's excess of current needs.

Paki O'Meara (#25, Senior, 5'11", 211, Washington HS (Cedar Rapids))

At some point in the distant future, you're going to be at a party with a group of Iowa fans of a similar age and ilk, and you will ask them which halfback started consecutive season openers in 2009 and 2010, and nobody will know because it's so obscure -- we're talking, like, 2035 or something, at a time when we have flying cars -- and you will casually remind them of Paki O'Meara and they will say oh yeah that's right he had ridiculous hair, and you will remark how he's a former walk-on who spent five years in the program and was an excellent special teams contributor for four years and that he wasn't a great back but he really did more than anyone could possibly expect and your friends will agree and offer to buy you a drink.

So thanks in advance, Paki.

De'Andre Johnson (#30, Freshman, 5'8", 210, Monsignor Pace HS (Miami, FL))

De'Andre had the misfortune of meeting AIRBHAG before he'd even signed with Iowa.  After a productive junior season, Johnson held offers from Iowa, Minnesota, Duke, and a cross-section of the Sun Belt, and reported interest from Florida, Miami, and LSU.  He then tore his ACL prior to his senior season.  The interest dried up.  The offer sheet froze.  And, when faced with few other options, Johnson chose Iowa.  He's been impressing the coaches throughout fall camp and could legitimately avoid a redshirt should we need another back.

Brad Rogers (#38, Freshman (RS), 5'10", 215, Central Catholic HS (Toledo, OH))

Brad Rogers is a big kid with bad intentions who was overlooked by the big teams because he was an even bigger boy in high school.  Rogers (3* Rivals, 2* Scout) was a 230-lb. bowling ball of a halfback for his high school team who projected as a fullback at every school not named Iowa or Wisconsin.  He ended his recruiting quickly, accepting Iowa's offer mere hours after the 2008 class signed, and came into the program ostensibly as a halfback.  He shed about 15 pounds, looked to be in the mix, started the spring game...and then reportedly switched to fullback.  The knock on Rogers has been his speed; fullback makes sense if there hasn't been an improvement in speed with the weight loss.  In any case, he can play halfback in a pinch.