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Coker ready for 2011

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | APRIL 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Shortly after his record-breaking performance in December’s Insight Bowl, Marcus Coker forgot about it.

Thirty-three carries for 219 yards — both Iowa bowl-game records.

Gone.

Two touchdown runs, one of which was a magnificent 62-yarder — the Hawkeyes’ longest scoring run of the year.

Didn’t happen.

“Five minutes after the bowl game, it was out of my mind,” the sophomore running back said April 8 about Iowa’s 27-24 victory against Missouri on Dec. 28. “Like it never really happened.”

So naturally, Coker said he never planned on using that game as a springboard into the upcoming season. And though the Beltsvile, Md., native appears the top candidate for Iowa’s starting running back spot after such a performance, he doesn’t view it that way.

His mentality is quite the opposite.

“I don’t look at myself as the guy,” the soft-spoken, 6-0, 230-pounder said, describing the philosophy he uses to remain motivated. “I look at myself at the bottom of the depth chart, trying to work my way up every day.”

But Coker’s 2010 season wasn’t without its bumps. It saw plenty.

Early in the team’s preseason camp — in his first few days as a Hawkeye — he suffered a broken collarbone. He missed the remainder of camp and was seriously limited until Iowa’s game on Sept. 25 against Ball State, which Kirk Ferentz called the first time he’d been hit “since he’s been in this state.”

That lost time was crucial. The 13th-year head coach described it as being equivalent to eight weeks of practice during the regular season because of the sheer amount of work performed during fall camp.

Before that injury, Ferentz and his staff had no reason to believe Coker couldn’t be a big-time contributor as a freshman. And why not? He arrived in Iowa City with plenty of accolades.

Rivals.com listed Coker as a four-star prospect, slotting him as the 22nd-best running back in the class of 2010.

“We said back in August we thought Marcus would be a great player for us. Unfortunately he got hurt,” Ferentz said after the Insight Bowl. “He has been playing catch-up through the season.

“When he had opportunities during the fall, he really did a good job.”

Even in his six games prior to the Insight Bowl, he ran for 403 yards on 81 carries. Perhaps Coker’s work ethic was the biggest reason he was still able to play a viable role for the Hawkeyes despite his preseason setback — Ferentz credited his attention to detail, in particular.

Coker has continued to demonstrate that sort of diligence during spring practice. So much so that even some on the other side of the ball are taking notice.

“Coker works hard, the same as he did last season,” senior defensive end Broderick Binns said on March 30. “He runs hard in practice. He doesn’t loaf. He makes the appropriate reads and the appropriate cuts that he should be making.”

If there’s one thing in particular he may need to improve upon, it may be his pad level. Coker tended to run a bit more “straight-up” than he should, something then-senior offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde noted following the Insight Bowl — “I still think he needs to run lower, or he’s going to get his ribs broken.”

Running with a low center of gravity allows a player to use more of his strength and also better shields him from injury. It’s something Coker said he’s worked on, though it shouldn’t be a difficult fix. Running with a stiffer posture may have been an subconscious post-injury effort to protect him from contact to his collarbone, he said.

But with Coker’s large frame, injury worries may be more relevant for potential tacklers.

“He’s a powerful man,” said sophomore linebacker James Morris. “When he hits you, you know it. So you better be ready.”


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