Coker works way back up depth chart


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Going into the 2010 Insight Bowl, no one knew much about Marcus Coker.

Then a true freshman, Coker had started just two games in his career. He had played serviceably well, but he hardly raised eyebrows despite being a Rivals.com four-star running back coming out of high school.

But when the lights came on in Sun Devil Stadium, no one shone brighter than Coker.

The bruising tailback (6-0, 230 pounds) pounded Missouri all night long and piled up 219 yards as the Hawkeyes beat the No. 12 Tigers, 27-24.

And people noticed.

Somewhere between receiving a second-quarter snap and rumbling 62 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, Coker became a household name in Iowa City and beyond. He was named to numerous preseason All-Big Ten lists, and Sports Illustrated even named the Beltsville, Md., native its preseason Big Ten MVP.

Coker isn’t letting the accolades go to his head, though. At Iowa’s media day on Aug. 5, he said he wasn’t even sure where he sits on head coach Kirk Ferentz’s depth chart.

“As far as I know, I’m backing [other tailbacks] up,” said the 19-year-old, who is listed as Ferentz’s top back. “I haven’t heard anything from Coach, so until I hear that, I’m backing them up.”

Coker was probably just being modest — the most recent depth chart, with Coker on top, had been made public more than a week earlier — but that’s par for the course from the young astrophysics major, who politely refused to talk about any of his personal goals for the season.

Some of his coaches were more willing to talk about the improvements the young running back must make, starting with offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe.

“There’s a long way to go, [like] any freshman — whether he played the entire season or he just played the four or five games [that Coker did],” O’Keefe said. “He’s got three years out in front of him. That’s a lot of football. There’s a lot of things he hasn’t seen out there yet.”

O’Keefe highlighted blitz pickup as a specific area in which Coker must get better, especially now that opponents have seen enough to plan for his physical running style.

Running backs coach Lester Erb, though, lauded Coker’s ability to learn on the fly — even in the middle of games.

“He was running pretty high early in the [Missouri] game and got hit a couple times,” Erb said. “He really learned to get his pads down there … He’s a guy who’s just going to continue to be improvement-driven.”

And if you believe what Coker says about his backups, he’ll need to be.

“Today was our first day, and everyone looked really fast — I felt I was really slow,” he said, and laughed. “All I know I’m going to do is come out here and work 150 percent every day. That’s pretty much all you can do. I don’t know any other way to separate yourself.”

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