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Notebook: Hawkeyes with running back question marks — again

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | MARCH 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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Several Iowa running backs have left the Hawkeye program over the last few years, often under murky circumstances. Running-back coach Lester Erb gave some insight into the team's backfield attrition problem on Wednesday when he spoke about players' "decision-making."

"We're dealing with 18- to 22-year-old guys," he said. "All you guys know that when you're 18 to 22 years old, you don't always make the best decisions. As much as we can educate these guys — and Kirk [Ferentz] does a great job of educating them on the pitfalls of being a college football player — it really comes down to decision-making. And as coaches, we can't be with those guys 24 hours a day."

Marcus Coker, the Big Ten's second-leading rusher in 2011, transferred to Stony Brook (N.Y.) after being suspended from the Insight Bowl. Promising freshman Mika'il McCall left in favor of Southern Illinois after being suspended for the season's final three games.

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That leaves the Hawkeyes with a spring depth chart full of question marks. Sophomore Jordan Canzeri is listed as the team's top back; he finished last season with 31 carries for 114 yards. He saw extensive action in place of his suspended teammates in the Insight Bowl on Dec. 30 but only managed an average of 2.6 yards on his 22 carries. Sitting behind him are sophomores Damon Bullock — who bounced between receiver and running back last season — and De'Andre Johnson.

Erb said Canzeri has "added a little weight" this season. Canzeri was officially listed as 172 pounds last season. He enters the spring at 180.

"He's not your typical Shonn Greene or Coker, obviously," quarterback James Vandenberg said. "You can tell that as soon as you shake his hand. But he catches the ball really well, and he's really good in open space. You've got to play to your personnel. When you've got a Shonn Greene, you're going to feed that guy the ball a lot. But [new offensive coordinator Greg] Davis has shown he can use a lot of different personnel, and I'm sure he'll have wrinkles for us."

Erb said he wasn't too concerned with having to work in a new featured back yet again.

"I'm getting good practice at it," he said. "Our players are eager to learn, and as a coach you kind of start over every year anyhow. But I've had some practice at it."

Players adjust to new offensive coordinator

Vandenberg never wore a quarterback wristband with plays and calls written on it last year. He's not sure if Davis will have him do so this year. But if he does, it will need to be an extensive one.

"It might go up to my shoulder this year," the senior said. "That's the truth."

The Hawkeyes will enter the season with a new offensive coordinator for the first time in 13 years. Davis, who held the same position previously at Texas, brings an entirely new playbook and a new set of terminology.

Erb said the coaches — many of whom have been in the same system for more than a decade — are perhaps having a tougher time learning than the players are.

"Our players have taken to it," he said. "A couple of them are maybe ahead of me right now, to be honest."

Those players say many of the concepts, blocking schemes, and pass routes have stayed the same. They're just called something different now.

And wide receiver Keenan Davis said the change has energized the team.

"I think maybe this is going to give us a little more excitement," Davis said. "A little change is always good."

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