Iowa RB Bullock hopes to solidify spot for Hawks
Damon Bullock will step into perhaps the most treacherous position in college football on Saturday.
Starting running back, Iowa.
Whether it has been personal indiscretion, academic misfortune or medical intervention, the Hawkeyes just can't seem to keep their tailbacks on the field.
Iowa's bad luck with backs reached a breaking point in the offseason. Five of them expected to compete for carries in 2012 won't be on the field Saturday when the Hawkeyes face Northern Illinois at Chicago's Soldier Field.
All that's left is Bullock, a sophomore who also played receiver in 2011, and a pair of true freshmen in Greg Garmon and walk-on Michael Malloy.
''At this point, all we can say is everybody be prepared,'' fullback Brad Rogers said.
The string of misfortune since Shonn Greene left after winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back in 2008 is hard to fathom.
Freshmen Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher helped lead Iowa to 11 wins and the Orange Bowl three years ago and should have been seniors this fall.
But Wegher quit the team in 2010. Robinson played well as a sophomore before what Ferentz dubbed academic ''indigestion'' and a subsequent arrest that led to his dismissal.
Robinson's departure put Marcus Coker in the top spot in 2011. He rushed for 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore before leaving after a bowl-game suspension. Freshman Mika'il McCall broke his ankle in the 2011 opener and later left the program on his own. De'Andre Johnson was dismissed just before the start of camp after a pair of run-ins with police.
Two players set to help fill the void, speedy sophomore Jordan Canzeri and true freshman Barkley Hill tore ACLs in their knees in the offseason. Canzeri could return by the end of the season, but at this point that seems unlikely.
Had the Hawkeyes had any good fortune at running back, Bullock might have stayed at receiver.
Bullock came to Iowa City after rushing for 1,606 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Mansfield High (Texas). The coaching staff only moved him outside because they saw potential for the 6-foot, 195-pounder to thrive as a receiver, though he didn't make much of an impact last season.
Thanks to circumstance, he'll have plenty of chances to prove he can play this season.
''He certainly did a good job this camp, so we feel good about that. And I think with our situation right now losing Barkley, we're really down to three guys we can envision going into a ball game,'' Ferentz said. ''Damon has the most experience. He has played, but he's hardly a seasoned player.''
Garmon was a highly coveted recruit who reportedly chose Iowa because the attrition at running back gave him a shot at immediate playing time. It's quite possible that Garmon will be a major factor by the end of the season.
Malloy, who grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, is so new to the program that the Hawkeyes have yet to post his biography on their website. Ferentz has been impressed with what he's seen from both of his freshman tailbacks and is willing to live with some rookie mistakes.
Bullock, Garmon and Malloy weren't available to the media Tuesday.
''Both of those guys may go the wrong way a time or two. We kind of anticipate that. They're not well-versed yet.'' Ferentz said.
Iowa also toyed with idea of playing the 230-pound Rogers at running back in fall camp. He enters the first week of the season at fullback - and a backup to sophomore Mark Weisman.
Rogers missed parts of 2010 and 2011 with a heart condition. But he made seven starts at fullback last season and was named the team's comeback player of the year, and he said Tuesday that he's been told to prepare to play either position.
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Greg Davis and the presence of senior quarterback James Vandenberg - arguably the best returning passer in the Big Ten - could help mitigate the issues Iowa has at running back.
The Hawkeyes still need someone to run the ball. If their bad luck continues, it could derail their season.
''We're lucky enough that we've recruited enough guys that we can keep popping them in there. And they've done a really good job for us. Damon has had a really good camp and Garmon and Malloy have both jumped in and taken reps and done better than I could ever imagine doing as a freshman. Those guys have really grown up quick,'' Vandenberg said.