College football: Who will carry load at Iowa?

The Hawkeyes are still trying to figure out the running back candidates.

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Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 12:00 am

IOWA CITY -- A big question hangs over the running back position as preseason practice heats up at Iowa.

Brad Rogers is trying to become the answer.

Rogers has been a fullback with the Hawkeyes and at 5-feet-10 and 230 pounds, he certainly looks the part. But attrition caused by transfers and dismissals has stripped the Hawkeyes of any veteran talent at running back, so all able bodies are getting a long look from the coaching staff.

And coach Kirk Ferentz said Rogers, a junior, definitely is among the able.

"One thing about Brad, he's been in the program," Ferentz said Monday during the team's media day. "We certainly have a great trust level in him and I think he's a fairly versatile guy.

"We'll keep an open mind, give everybody an opportunity," he added.

Rogers came to Iowa as a running back out of Central Catholic High School in Toledo, Ohio, and overcame an early setback. After he played 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2010, a heart condition kept him out of the Insight Bowl then sidelined him during the offseason and through all of preseason practice last year.

He returned after four games, became the starting fullback and was named the team's Comeback Player of the Year.

"It's very exciting coming from where I came from last year," Rogers said. "It's different to get back on the field for the full summer and actually get to compete with my teammates instead of sitting out and coming in in the middle of the season. Now I can show what I can do before the season and actually play a full season."

While Rogers has seen plenty of game action, he hasn't carried the ball much. Iowa uses a fullback only about half the time and even when he's in there, he rarely touches the ball. In two seasons, Rogers has run the ball only 14 times, gaining 83 yards, and caught three passes for 22 yards.

New offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who used to run the offense for Mack Brown at Texas, doesn't see Rogers' lack of touches as a liability.

"He's kind of like an assistant coach," Davis said. "He does a great job with all the young guys. He's a guy that can play fullback, he's a guy that could play tailback. We talk about the best ability (being) dependability, and he is that to a T. You know what you're going to get every day."

Rogers and sophomore Damon Bullock sit atop the depth chart for now. Bullock played some as a true freshman last season, but he comes in with only 10 carries for 20 yards.

The Hawkeyes' top returning rusher is Jordan Canzeri (31 carries, 114 yards), but he underwent surgery for a torn ACL in April, and while he was in uniform Monday, it's still uncertain how soon he'll be able to play.

Canzeri started in Iowa's Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma last December because Marcus Coker, who rushed for 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, was suspended. Coker left the team a short time later and is now at Stony Brook.

"There's a lot of controversy going on outside," Bullock said. "But I just try to focus on my goals and help out the team."

Incoming freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill also could be in the mix for the starting job, and Ferentz said he wouldn't hesitate to use either one. But he sometimes wonders if there's enough time for everyone at the position to get the work they need.

"If we could do it feasibly, we could probably stay out there four hours," he said, "but the rest of the team wouldn't be able to hold up."

Rogers doesn't mind the crowd at his position. Heck, the more the merrier.

"I'd probably say it's more fun," he said. "Competition is always good. It makes the next person ahead of you or behind you go a little harder. It just makes us work harder and that helps the team."

And whether he's playing fullback or running back, Rogers said it makes no difference.

"Here at Iowa, we like to play physical ball," he said. "Our running backs and our fullbacks both have to be physical."

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