IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa will finally have a running back starting at running back this fall.
After three years leaning on converted fullback Mark Weisman, the Hawkeyes intend to make junior LeShun Daniels Jr. their starter.
Iowa, which has typically tried to build its offensive philosophy around a strong running game, is hopeful that Daniels can be its first player to rush for over 1,000 yards since Marcus Coker in 2011.
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The Hawkeyes open their season Sept. 5 against Illinois State.
”He’s obviously a bigger back, and he’s really an intelligent, smart guy. He knows who he needs to block, and he knows where he needs to be. You can always count on him, and he’s been running the ball really well,” quarterback C.J. Beathard said about Daniels.
At 6 foot and about 225 pounds, Daniels is built like the kind of traditional big back that Iowa was once known for.
If Daniels can stay healthy, he’ll likely get as many carries as he can handle.
Daniels struggled through injuries as a freshman, rushing for just 142 yards. He looked ready to emerge last season until a foot injury sidelined him for the second half of the year.
Daniels made his push to be the starter with a strong spring camp though, and he’s also dropped 10 pounds in an effort to gain some quickness and flexibility.
”I really feel a much bigger difference between myself now and myself last year. I just feel like I can make much different cuts, making different moves, get out of situations much quicker and make bigger, explosive plays.”
For now, senior Jordan Canzeri appears set for be Iowa’s third down and change of pace back – though a bigger role could be possible with a strong finish to fall camp.
Canzeri has also battled through a series of health issues during his career, and at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds it’s unclear whether he’d be able to withstand the pounding he’d have to take week in and week out.
But Canzeri has had his moments with the Hawkeyes, most notably when he rushed for 120 yards on just 12 carries in a bowl loss to Tennessee in January.
Converted wide receiver Derrick Mitchell will also be in the mix – though he’s the least experienced back in contention for playing time – and Akrum Wadley has gotten a look as well after rushing for 106 yards in last year’s rout of Northwestern.
Of course, it won’t matter who runs the ball for the Hawkeyes if they can’t find adequate replacements for offensive tackles Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal, who are both now in the NFL.
Sophomores Boone Myers and Ike Boettger have been tasked with replacing Scherff and Donnal, and they and their linemates struggled at times Saturday.
But Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz expressed confidence in both players after having watched them through the first week of camp.
”They’re quality guys. They’re hard working guys. They’re intelligent, and to me it’s just a matter of time. They’re running the race real well right now,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.