IOWA CITY, Iowa – Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels stood here in the Iowa performance center Tuesday morning tempting people to judge them. The former was listed on the roster at 5-foot-9, 192 pounds (generously). The latter checked in at 6-0, 225.
We like to pigeonhole folks in our society. We especially enjoy doing it with athletes. These Hawkeye running backs invite labels based on appearance.
Daniels, a junior, looks the part of a bruising, battering ram crashing his way through the hole. Canzeri appears to be the nibble, change-of-pace back used to keep defenses off balance. While these roles may turn out to be a reality, both guys feel like they’re complete backs.
"I have the positive outlook that I can handle whatever the coaches are going to throw at me. However many times they want me to run the ball and how many times I’m in position to, I feel as if I can do so. I’ve worked hard enough for it and I know body-wise I can hold up for it as well," Canzeri said.
"There’s always going to be that noise. With LeShun, people think that he’s just a back that will run people over. But, no, he’s very quick. He can make people miss as well."
The Iowa coaches vaulted Daniels into the starting role after he excelled this spring. The staff has maintained that Canzeri, who entered the offseason as the No. 1, also will be used.
It’s unclear how the timeshare will unfold when the season kicks off Saturday against Illinois State at Kinnick Stadium (11 a.m. CT, BTN). It could depend on which guys is performing better. Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Akrum Wadley also are pushing for carries.
"We’ll just kind of play it by ear and see how it goes," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I don’t know if we’ll go with the hot-hand guy or use Jordan maybe a little bit more on third down. I think we have a nice opportunity to mix it up a little bit."
Said Daniels: "You expect to have all the reps but you never know how it’s going to play out during the game."
Daniels and Canzeri have dealt with injuries in their college careers. Neither back has made it through a season unscathed.
Canzeri is Iowa’s most accomplished returning runner. He has 1,089 career rushing yards on 207 carries. He boasts 100-yard games in 2011, ’13 and ’14 (missed ’12 with injury).
Daniels has been used sporadically the last two seasons. He’s toted the ball 51 times for 191 yards and a touchdown. He lost 10-15 pounds this off-season in an attempt to improve speed and endurance.
"I’m obviously a bigger guy and (Canzeri is) probably a little more shifty and quick but we both can do everything. Jordan knows how to get his shoulder down and get the tough yards. I think I can make people miss and take a five-yard run and make it a 35-yard run," Daniels said.
Iowa moved to consolidate and create better flow to its rushing attack this offseason by allowing offensive line coach Brian Ferentz to coordinate the run game, the left hand now knowing what the right was doing.
"We like to run the ball and we made that a big emphasis. We have to do a better job running the ball," quarterback C.J. Beathard said. "Coach Brian has done a good job enforcing that with the offensive line and the running backs."
The Hawkeyes long have carried the tag of being a physical offense wanting to run the ball to set up the play-action pass. They’ve gotten away from that in recent years due to injury and ineffectiveness.
Last season, Iowa ranked 61st nationally in rushing offense (163.1 YPG, 4.12 YPC). Combined with a lack of a downfield passing threat, opponents loaded the box. It resulted in a painfully inconsistent unit.
Iowa is replacing its starting tackles on the offense line and leading rusher Mark Weisman. Still, the participants believe improvement is coming.
"We expect (the running game) to be good. We’re Iowa. We like to run the football. We take pride in running the football. We believe in our offensive line making the holes for us. We have trust in them and they have trust in us," Daniels said
Beathard provides the Hawkeyes with a strong-armed signal caller capable of burning defenses deep. A reliable rushing attack is needed to fully take advantage of that skill set.
Iowa could benefit from a time-consuming rushing attack this week. The Redbirds bring to town an explosive offense that returns many of the key pieces from a unit that averaged 38.3 points per game a year ago. It would be nice to eat clock and keep it off the field.
"We’ve got to establish the run. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we want to establish the run," Beathard said.
Mitchell Jr., who played receiver last season, and Wadley were competing for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart during the offseason.
"Derrick was slowed down by an injury but he’s back now and hopefully we can continue moving him forward. He’s clearly out third back right now," Kirk Ferentz said.
As for Wadley: "We haven’t forgotten about him," Kirk Ferentz said. "As you know, it’s a really fluid process during the year. My guess is we’re going to need a lot of guys so hopefully he’ll keep improving."