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Trio of running backs to replace Greene

BY BRENDAN STILES | APRIL 24, 2009 7:29 AM

At this time last year, Hawkeye fans were wondering how the ground game would look for the Iowa offense after losing running backs Albert Young and Damian Sims.

Little did everyone realize the question surrounding Iowa’s backfield this spring would be even more enormous.

Absent from Iowa’s group of running backs entering 2009 is Doak Walker Award-winner Shonn Greene, who elected to forgo his senior year and enter this weekend’s NFL draft.

As of now, sophomore-to-be running back Jewel Hampton, who had missed the latter portion of spring practice because of a hamstring strain, appears to be the favorite to replace Greene in the backfield. Even with Hampton’s injury, he has been listed on Iowa’s two-deep as the Hawkeyes’ first-string running back from the get-go.

Last season, Hampton had 463 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns on the ground, the most ever by a Hawkeye true freshman. Perhaps his best outing came in his home state of Indiana, when the Indianapolis native rushed for 114 yards on 22 carries and scored three times in a 45-9 Iowa victory over the Hoosiers.

“I think last year, Jewel did a good job of proving that he’s worthy of playing running back here,” junior-to-be quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. “He did a good job of stepping in as the No. 2 guy and really providing us with some really good runs. Now, he’s got the chance to go out there and be the No. 1 guy.”

Battling Hampton for that starting spot in the backfield are junior-to-be Paki O’Meara and redshirt freshman-to-be Jeff Brinson, who, said head coach Kirk Ferentz, suffered an ankle injury during the Hawkeyes’ final spring practice on April 18.

Regardless of who Iowa ends up putting in the backfield, members of the offensive line such as junior-to-be Bryan Bulaga feel pretty confident about what each of them can provide on the gridiron.

“They’re all three pretty good backs,” he said. “They’re all physical backs. I think they all learned from Shonn and his style of running. I think they’ve all done a pretty good job.”

With three viable options to possibly use in this rushing attack, Ferentz is preparing to call on any one as opposed to relying solely on one to carry the ball, as he did with Greene last year.

“Shonn just had extraordinary production a year ago. We don’t expect any one person to fill that void,” Ferentz said during a Big Ten teleconference on April 14. “But I think that we’ve got a capable group back there, and at the end of the day, by the end of the season, I think we should be able to have guys play well at that position.”

Even with Greene now moving toward greener pastures in the NFL, no one in the program anticipates as much of a drop-off in the Hawkeyes’ running game this season that might normally be expected with the departure of the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

“A lot of people think we’re going to drop in the running game, but I don’t think we are,” senior-to-be offensive lineman Dace Richardson said. “I think we’ll keep it up, and, hopefully, we have another running back do some big things this year.”


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